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What to Know Before an Overnight Campus Stay

Touring colleges during the day and watching students go to class is one part of campus life. But it is on an overnight stay where prospective students get a true flavor of a school.

What to know before you go?

Rather than visiting on your own, it's best if you arrange an overnight through the admissions office, suggests Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, N.Y. That way the host student is vetted and prepared to make most of the experience— including taking the high school student to class, the dining hall, and an appropriate campus event.

An overnight trip to one or two schools can be a good way for high school seniors to really get a sense of a college, if it's a place where they feel comfortable and want to be. "Being able to experience what the dorms are like, how students interact in a natural, organic way can be valuable," says Sohmer. But take the trips sparingly. It's not something you should do if you just are "kind of interested" in a school, she adds.

To make the most of the visit, be as explicit as you can upfront about the experience you want to have on campus. For instance, if the school has a big Greek system but that is not appealing, ask to stay in the dorms. Or if you love Latin, request to sit in on a class. Student-athletes should be paired with other athletes, says Sohmer.

Sometimes area alumni groups organize a bus trip from a certain city for an overnight stayt. Or to attract underrepresented groups, the college might arrange a weekend trip for several minority students or young women interested in engineering to visit. Students generally pay for their own travel to campus (with the exception of some targeted fly-in or drive-in trips). But once on campus, there is no cost for visiting, and students are often given a meal card for the weekend.

Most often, students go alone on these visits. This means parents need to let go a little. The high school students are on the verge of college, after all. It's best, says Sohmer, if families have had conversations about being responsible and having good judgment. Still, it's a good idea for students to have a cell phone and check in with their parents, she adds.

A campus visit is a fact-finding trip, not so much a tryout, says Nancy T. Beane, college counselor at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. It can be useful, for instance, to meet with a professor and send a follow-up email. Yet there is no guarantee that contact will have an influence on the admissions process, she says. "You ought to do [an overnight visit] for the right reasons," says Beane. "It's not to see how many people you can touch base with."

Afterwards, it's good form to send a note of thanks to the admissions office and your campus host. If you do not go on an admission-sponsored visit, still stop by the office and register to let admissions officers know you were on campus. It demonstrates your interest and can make a difference in your application at some schools, says Beane.

Or if the student didn't connect with anyone officially on campus, he or she can contact the local college rep to let the rep know the student was there, says Beane. If an overnight visit isn't possible, the student could contact a former student from his or her high school who attends the college to meet for lunch on campus or when they are home over break to get a feel for a student perspective of the school.

Choosing a college is such a huge decision that it's smart to take advantage of as many avenues as possible to check out the right fit. For more on college visits, see past blogs on what to look for on campus, summer visits and probing questions to pose.


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