Time is of the essence as your high school junior builds, researches, and narrows down their college application list. This might sound easy, but good research takes time. This winter and spring are the optimal times for juniors to tour colleges that they’ve already researched online. 

To make the most of your time on campus, be sure you and your student both know a college’s general offerings before you arrive. For example, if you have an avid skier who’s likely to study math or physics, they should know if there’s a ski club and have a general idea of the structure of the math and physics majors. 

Over a single vacation, we recommend visiting an area in which several potential schools are located. If you visit Pennsylvania, for example, you could visit Lehigh, Drexel, UPenn and Swarthmore, but only if they all offer the program in which you are interested. We find that it’s most effective to visit no more than two schools per day, because each info session and tour can take upwards of two hours. Taking in the information during the info sessions and walking around campuses is more tiring than you might think!

The information sessions are the college sales pitch. Listen carefully to what the guides say, and what they don’t say. Do they mention student life, study abroad, the diversity of the student body? Be prepared with specific questions to ask the guide, based on your interests and on research you’ve done about the school’s programs. As you walk around the campus, get a feel for the vibe. The college students are likely to be on their campuses during the high school winter and spring breaks. Try to talk to them — it’s entirely fine to ask them questions like “what do you like most about this school?”

Think about the size and location of the school. Is it walkable? Is it too flat or too hilly? Is there enough of a town or city around? What happens if you are studying late and want a snack? 

Above all, we recommend that you keep a journal or record of which school you visit, your thoughts and reflections on your time at that school. Take photos and tag the locations, and after each tour, make more notes or dictate voice memos. We have a journal template that we give to our students to help them stay organized with their reflections.