Why visit so many college campuses ?

There’s currently a thread called how many colleges did you visit?.
Which got me wondering: WHY is it so necessary to visit college campuses?
It’s seems to be an obligatory rite of passage.
But I don’t get it.

Now, visiting a college is a good idea for a 17 year old kid. You’re taking your first steps at independence, yadda, yadda…there’s a whole lot of new stuff to learn about life.
But why make a ritual of visiting 5 or 10 different places?

There are basically only 3 types of universities: large universities, small colleges, and urban schools.And within any of those categories, most campuses are pretty similar.
The campus may be huge with green leafy quadrangles and buildings covered in ivy , or it may be smaller with only one central lawn, or it may be urban and have almost no central campus. They all have dorms, and maybe fraternities on campus, and apartments nearby.

So there are a lot of options for a kid to choose from.
And , yes, it’s worth visiting once… to get a feel for how you might be living, with no parents around.

I remember the excitement I felt 40 years ago at age 16 to visit a campus and sleep in my older brother’s dorm. (shh…They had …beer!!!)
And at 17, I spent a day visiting another campus where I was pretty sure I would be enrolling next year.
And I got a lot of good information:
I heard a presentation from fraternity guys, who told us all about how if you wanted to be cool and successful, you absolutely had to pledge a house,(and I quickly realized that there ain’t no way I’d want to do that).
I heard explanations of how the dorms work.
I was given pamphlets (pre-internet days!) about financial aid, about student sports, social organizations and campus life.

But nowadays, all this info is on the internet.And in much, much more detail.
Why does everybody go to the expense and trouble of travelling to see the different campuses?

Some of it is for the parents.

And I’m guessing part of it is to improve chances of admission. “I really loved that wall on the quadrangle whose picture gets changed every month” packs more oomph than “I am very interested in your campus art.”

As I said in the other thread, I had only visited one of the schools I had applied to–the one I ended up going to. But I didn’t really visit visit it. Like, I had no idea that the make-up of the student body was so white and male until I actually arrived on my first day of school.

While the passage of time has allowed me to look more fondly on my college days, I think if I had visited the campus and really checked it out, I may not have attended. And maybe that wouldn’t have been a good thing, since I did get a good education there and it was practically free. But it may be that I would have chosen a place where I could have fit in better and made some friends, if I had checked things out more.

You’re going to spend four-five years at a place, so it kind of makes sense to do some recon first. A pamplet is an advertisement. It’s not going to show you that the dorms are kind of dumpy, the student center becomes a ghost town after six o’clock because lots of students are commuters, or the surrounding town is sketchy and boring. You can know these things intellectually, but seeing them first-hand makes them real.

In the midst of our fourth and last round of the college tours as our youngest enters her last year of HS.

Rarely (but not never) has a college tour been valuable recon but many parents (read my wife) and some kids think it is. Most commonly it overweights the most superficial features - how nice the campus looked that day (random event of weather), the specific tour guide (once one with stomach flu, knocked a great choice out for number three son), so on. Getting a sense of the functional diversity (not just numbers as sometimes the numbers can look good even as different groups stay separate) of the campus and what life is actually like there would be like is just not something that there visits usually show a student to be.

But everyone involved feels they need to do have done the due diligence and if they are not happy later and didn’t do it will beat themselves up for not having done it. So atouring we will go!

A one-day visit led by a cheerful smiling guide won’t show you any of the problems you just mentioned.
But the internet will.

And not just the official web site which is run by the school.
For most universities, there are other sources: a reddit forum, Facebook page, etc.
The questions posted there by newcomers get the really important answers, from the people who live there and know the truth: where to catch the bus, is Professor X a tough grader,where the best cafeteria is, which dorms have the best parties, are the guys in Sigma Kappa Delta all jerks, etc, etc.

It’s an excuse for one last family road trip.

Often 5 or 10 trips. :slight_smile:

My oldest grandchild had visited a number of campuses and had a first choice but didn’t get in. Then he visited one more place that he had been admitted to and fell in love with it. He graduated from it a year ago. In 1983, my daughter hadn’t visited any campus and when I spoke to provost of the school she went to he expressed surprised that she hadn’t visited it. In fact it had been an earlier conversation with him (he had been a grad school classmate of mine) that even impelled her to apply there. Nowadays it seems almost required to visit.

It’s just shopping. Ostensibly, you are going to be spending a lot of money on college, why wouldn’t you shop around?

Granted, a 17 year old is not the best judge of the finer details in making a decision, but why not go through the process of choosing based on experiencing the superficial physical essence of a place and how well that resonates personally?

Of course, I am in favor of narrowing the choices in the first place, based on available information. (Why visit a school if it doesn’t provide your preferred degree, is out of your price range, is a faith based institution and you are not a fit, etc.) It provides no additional value to visit 35 campuses. But a handful, if you can swing it, OK.

As I said, knowing something intellectually is different than seeing it first hand. Hearing that a campus is “sprawling” doesn’t inform a person quite like driving or walking around it does. Additionally, other people may have a different definition of “dumpy”, “ghost town”, “sketchy”, or “boring” than you. Maybe they those descriptions are exaggerations of reality, written by students with an axe to grind. People should see for themselves before believing rando opinions on the internet.

And a campus tour isn’t what I am thinking of when I think of a “visit”. Just taking a stroll through campus all on your own can tell you a lot.

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The answer is the same as why one applies to multiple schools: you may not be accepted to your top choice. Also, it’s very important that the prospective student and the school “click”, since online recon will not give the full flavor of what the school and surrounding environs are like IRL.

I think it depends on the criteria you’re using to select a school. If your most important concerns are things like affordability or the availability of a particular degree program, you can get along just fine without visiting the campus. But if you’re more interested in the vibe and atmosphere of the place – say, you’re looking for a campus full of nerdy intellectuals and quirky artists, and definitely WON’T be happy at one where the focus is sports and Greek life, or vice versa – the campus visit can matter a lot.

Rightly or wrongly, I fell squarely in the second category when I was seventeen. (As I mentioned briefly in the other thread, I visited UVA – my state flagship university – on football game day and was horrified enough to say an immediate “nuh-uh, not even applying here”: not only were people stumbling around drunk at noon, but they were doing so while dressed in suits and ties. When you’re a wannabe hippie bohemian creative writer, that is very clearly Not You.)

I suspect, now that I’m in my forties and have spent most of my professional career at an institution where most students make their decisions on the basis of factors like “it’s close to home, it’s cheap, and the nursing program is the best in the state,” that this is a mark of how massively privileged I was at seventeen, and that I would have found a niche at UVA and been just fine. But if you do happen to be from a background where you don’t have to be wedded to practical considerations and you CAN think of choosing a school as an expression of your personality, the campus visit can be informative in ways that the brochures aren’t.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of schools will let prospective students sit in on a class in their intended major, and in some cases spend a night in the dorms with student hosts, so they’re not just getting the carefully curated campus tour.

If you have any special needs at all, you’re not going to find out how realistically they are addressed without visiting the campus. Unless you visited the place I went to school, there is no way you would know that the office for disabled student services itself was not wheelchair-accessible (it is now, because someone sued, but it was seriously down a narrow flight of stairs in my day). You probably wouldn’t know unless you dug deep that you couldn’t get an American Sign Language interpreter unless you were able to provide the school with the name of a person, or at least a service, yourself. They would be happy to tell you over the phone (relay) or email, or by letter, that yes, of course you could have an interpreter in the classroom, but they didn’t bother to tell you how few lived in the area, and how difficult it would be to get one going to a class on a regular basis. They wouldn’t tell you unless you investigated, that no advocates were available for people with autism or conditions that might cause them to miss class-- which could be anything from epilepsy to kidney disease.

The school I went to is really money-grubbing, and will try to convince every person staying in the dorms to buy the 21 meal a week plan, and not bother to tell you that there are a lot of cheap places to eat near the campus, and at least four grocery stores in walking distance, and that for less than $150, you can get a mini-fridge and a microwave that fit in your dorm room. For another $12, you can have a coffee maker.

They also tell you that everyone needs to buy a bus pass, and don’t bother to say that the campus is in one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country.

It is also a huge campus. It is possible to schedule classes back-to-back, the second of which is not possible to get to on time because of its distance from the first class. You can’t always suss all that out from a map. You can figure that out if you’ve been to the campus, though.

A smart person doesn’t just take the campus tour; a smart person takes some time to investigate the city where the school is located, and the things about the campus that aren’t on the tour.

Personally, I just went where my uncle taught, because I got a fee remission, and it was unbelievably cheap. I knew the campus already from having gone to high school in the town, and I didn’t even apply anywhere else. But when my brother and younger cousins were applying to colleges, I told them that if the disabled student services office wasn’t on the tour, to check it out, because you could find out a lot about a school by the way it provided for its disabled students. Was the office is proportion to the rest of the campus? Was the office itself accessible? If not, there might be serious problems with the college.

Don’t get me wrong: I got a decent education at my school, but I had to resist its money-grubbing at every turn. Just as an example, alumni of every university and college and tech school in Indiana can get a special license plate from the BMV, just by demonstrating alumni status, and paying the general special plate fee. My school, and only my school, additionally makes you pay a fee to the school for the right to have the alumni plate.

I started that other thread and even I will admit that I’m not sure why since most college choices are ultimately based on financial decisions - who will give you the best financial aid package.

Because really, where you go to college has little bearing on your life later on. Its more based on your major, your skills, your contacts, your drive, and often just plain dumb luck.

Now yes, I’d say some schools with bad reputations, you should avoid.

Plus like I talked about in a previous thread, most colleges and the careers are pretty regional. For example in my area, Kansas City, most people go to KU, MU, KState, or other midwestern colleges. A degree from even an Ivy league like Harvard has little pull and can even be a liability.

So ultimately at least around here, if one goes to just about any midwestern college, your ok. No need to go for a visit.

That linked thread notwithstanding, visiting a bunch of campuses is not common and is far from obligatory. The Dope has a disproportionate number of high academic achievers who are/were choosing colleges for more refined reasons than “gotta go somewhere after high school”.

I think most colleges are like that The University of Kansas has sent me something, magazine, letter, catalog, etc… about every month for the past 20 years or so always wanting me to donate money. And they really raked me over back in the day also.

That was really eye-opening about disabled access. KU is spread over this massive campus with hills and stairs everywhere.

Most people make decisions not based on “the rest of their life” but on the here-and-now and thirty minutes of tomorrow. This is especially true for a teenager. And I think it is unfair to disregard this mindset. There are many sad stories of college kids ruining or destroying their lives due to unhappiness with one’s living arrangements. So no, not everyone just cares about financial aide. People also care about whether there is a community waiting for them on a campus. This is especially the case when the student is going to be far from home, they have special needs, or they are a member of a minority group.

Also, I disagree that where a student goes to school does not matter. A science major who goes to a Research 1 university is going to get a very different education than someone who goes to a small religious college that won’t teach evolution. Their degrees won’t be valued the same. Their networks won’t be equally as effective. Their skills and experiences probably won’t be the same. Opportunities won’t be the same. Yes, it is possible that both schools will churn out successful candidates. But it will be much easier to find success at some schools over others.

Research has found that poor whites and minority students benefit by going to prestigious institutions. Having a name brand on your resume helps counteract the stereotypes and prejudices that others might have about you. So I would say not giving any care about where you are going to school is a sign of privilege. People who have an uphill battle can’t afford to be so cavelier.

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Former campus tour guide here.
When I was showing potential students around (in the nineties) they sorted into two main groups: those who knew what they wanted to do, and those with obsessive parents. Those who knew what they wanted generally only visited one or two schools and asked lots of pointed, direct questions.
When the parents were the ones pushing for the trip it was pretty obvious, because the kids had no real idea what they wanted, no real motivation, and the parents were convinced that the graduation ceremony involved a fairy waving the magical wand of success.

I actually had very few people visiting who had or were planning to visit multiple locations in several farflung locations for an undergraduate degree, and I don’t see why people would do that aside from wanting to undertake several road trips.

If you already know what you are going to major in (and if you’re aiming for a BA or BSc you should know before you apply) it’s better to narrow your focus before you take on the expensive step of travelling to school after school.

The time to visit schools is when pursuing a Masters or Doctorate or post-doc, and even then, you should only visit two or three at most because you’re effectively going into a job interview.

My three kids each handled it differently. Kid #1 wanted to stay in town for college, picked one she was familiar with, and never gave it another thought. Kid #2 did some research on the internet, narrowed it down to two state schools, and chose the one with the slightly better academic reputation. I don’t think he actually physically visited either school. Kid #3 had firmly decided on his course of study, did a huge amount of online research narrowed it down to 3 or 4 schools and wanted to visit each one. Even when we’d suggest a school that supposedly had a good reputation in that area, he could tell us exactly why it wasn’t what he was looking for.