college visits

The College Scoops Podcast

Different College Visit Types Defined

May 10, 2019

Planning a college visit and wondering what type of college visits are available to students?  There are several different opportunities for students (and parents) to meet with admissions staff whether it is on campus, at your local high school, or at a venue in your local area. Patrick provides an overview of the various college visits in our weekly post from Admissions Scoops.

college visit

As someone who has been, at different points of his life, a prospective student, a campus tour guide, and an admissions officer, I have a lot of empathy for high school students and their parents who feel overwhelmed by the scope of the college tour process. There are so many options, so much conflicting advice, and no standardized language across the higher education landscape. Colleges bombard students with brochures, emails, and invitations in a race to capture imaginations and families have less time than ever to schedule their visits.

Although the process can seem overwhelming and opaque at times, the reality is American colleges and universities want you to visit their campuses. Even at the most selective schools in the country, the prospective student is in the driver’s seat. Admissions offices are developing new ways to accommodate visiting families every year, and you should approach this process knowing your worth to these institutions.

Below are definitions of some of the most common campus visit opportunities available:

Campus Tour and Information Session

  • The most traditional visit experience is the tour and information session. Visitors are welcomed to the admissions office to hear a presentation on campus life and academic opportunities, followed by a tour of the campus. Most schools offer daily visit options multiple times a day, every day, throughout the year. They might look a little different: at small colleges, this may be an intimate conversation between the admissions officer and a few visiting families, whereas at big land grant universities it might involve moving hundreds of people through an auditorium. In either case, the traditional tour and information session guarantee you get the basic facts and the general vibe of a school.
  • Don’t forget to RSVP in advance—especially on high traffic days like Columbus Day. Schools need to anticipate how many tour guides they’ll need, and you want to get credit for attending the visit.

Open House

Open Houses are large-scale events where the entire campus community comes together to welcome prospective students and their families. Admissions officers plan open houses with the help of their colleagues from across the university. They often begin with a welcome from a high ranking member of the college community—the president, a dean, or a high profile faculty member—and may include alumni panels, mock classes taught by actual professors, lab tours, and other peaks into college life that you can’t get on a typical daily visit.

  • These events are, as you can imagine, massive undertakings and require a huge sacrifice of campus resources. They are often the only time professors, career center employees, administrators, and alumni are directly involved in the admissions process. The influx of visitors also means the dining halls are open and prepared to show off their best work.  As a result, they are an excellent time to visit a campus.


On-Campus Interview

Some schools offer the chance to schedule an on-campus interview when you’re in town for the tour and information session. Interviews can be conducted with admissions officers, current students, or even faculty members. These interviews may be considered “evaluative”—counting toward your admissions decision—but increasingly the campus interview is merely “informational.” Colleges are switching to informational interviews in part because they are unable to accommodate all the requests that come through.

  • If a school’s interviews are evaluative or required they will make that very clear. If an interview is important to you, don’t panic if there aren’t any time slots available on the day you’re visiting campus. You may be able to schedule an alumni interview in your hometown down the line. If you are able to schedule an interview when you’re on campus, make sure to come prepared with questions.  


  • The most authentic way to visit a college campus is the Overnight. Throughout the semester, some schools will offer the chance for prospective students to live like college kids by spending the night in a residence hall. Admissions offices will connect the visiting students with a “host”—a current student who brings you to class, dinner, the library, and wherever else they might go in a typical day. Overnights are a perfect opportunity to really assess if you could see yourself thriving on a particular campus. The only downside is you’re most likely spending the night sleeping on the floor!
  • Because of demand, overnights might have an application process and an essay prompt. If you can’t schedule an overnight as a prospective student, there will likely be opportunities to spend the night in a dorm if and when you are admitted.

Athletic Recruitment

  • Recruited athletes often also get an opportunity to spend the night on campus, but it’s arranged through the coach/ team, not the admissions office. The NCAA has very specific rules about athlete recruitment—be sure to check with your own high school counselors and coaches to make sure you’re handling that process effectively and appropriately.

High School Visit

  • When they’re not on campus reading applications, running information sessions, or planning open houses, admissions officers are traveling the country conducting “recruitment travel.” The majority of an admissions officer’s time on the road is spent visiting high schools. Admissions staff work with high school guidance/ college counseling staff to schedule blocks of time at your schools—bringing the campus visit to you.
  • High School Visits are a great time for you to learn more about a college. In my experience, most students come to a high school visit to test the waters before committing to an in-person campus visit. Many sophomores and juniors would come to listen to my presentation, ask questions, and take a brochure with them. It is a low-effort way to evaluate a school and narrow down your list.

Group Travel Presentation

  • In order to maximize staff efficiency and help students draw contrasts between schools, admissions officers from similarly situated colleges will sometimes travel the country together on Group Travel. During group travel, four or five admissions officers from different colleges will give evening presentations—each school speaks for about ten minutes before breaking out into separate corners for continued conversation. Group Travel trips bring colleges to your backyard and are a very efficient way to experience multiple schools without leaving the state.

Fly-In Program

  • Some schools run specialized programming that arranges to fly prospective students to campus for a fully curated visitor experience. These fly-ins usually have a theme—focusing on an academic discipline or and aspect of the campus community. Fly-in participants are selected from an application process (usually an essay prompt) and then the admissions office books transportation, accommodations, and theme-specific experiences once on campus. For example, students on a Humanities Fly-In might attend a history lecture, have lunch with some film studies professors, and then attend a Shakespeare production at night.
  • If you are invited to apply for a fly-in, take the opportunity seriously. Only a select number of students get the chance at such a personalized visit experience.

Departmental Spotlight

  • Although less exclusive than a fly-in, departmental spotlights are another topic-specific visit opportunities. Throughout the year, admissions offices arrange for an information session, panel, or tour that highlights an academic discipline or path at the school. If you know you are going to be pre-med and find the traditional campus visit to be too generalized, a spotlight day can expose you to the specific courses, resources, and buildings that are relevant to your interests.
  • If a school on your list doesn’t offer departmental spotlights, build your own! Consider sticking around after the general campus tour to explore the relevant buildings in greater depth.

Self-Guided Tour

  • If all else fails and you can’t attend any of the scheduled visit options—or you’re feeling burnt out on all the cheerful campus tour guides—take matters into your own hands. Colleges lend themselves beautifully to exploring. Grab a campus map, download the virtual tour, or just start wandering. All of the statistics and fun facts are no substitution for the visceral feeling that campus is the right fit.

Believe me when I tell you that there is no “right” way to approach the campus visit. Every year on admitted students day, admissions officers are amused to learn that there are some students who applied, were accepted, and deposited without ever attending a formal campus visit.

Whether you attend every single sanctioned admissions event or stealthily explore a college from a distance, never lose track of the reason behind it all—to find an institution where you can begin the next chapter of your academic and personal journey.

Happy hunting!

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Patrick Meade, Author

Patrick is a former Assistant Director of Admissions at Johns Hopkins University where he recruited students and read applications from all corners of the globe. At Hopkins, he focused on the messaging and marketing of the undergraduate experience—an extension of his senior thesis “An Exploration of Liberal Arts Colleges,” a study of the distinctly American small residential college experience.Patrick is currently a Membership Engagement Associate for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honors society founded by John Adams in 1780 to “convene leaders from every human endeavor” to examine new ideas and address issues of national importance. He designs and implements panels, lectures, receptions, and other programs that provide members with opportunities to connect to each other and the work of the Academy. Patrick graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2014 with a major in English and a minor in Museums and Society. He is an avid sailor and native of Cape Cod, MA.

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