The Overnight: Visit College Up Close
If you want a true sense of college life, do more than the typical college visit and spend a night on campus. You’ll literally become part of the school’s environment. When you walk across the campus, you’ll see, feel and learn what it’s like to be a student. In fact, the actual students probably won’t even know you’re a visitor. That type of engagement is priceless.
There’s no specific point in the college-search process that’s necessarily best for an overnight; it depends on the student and the situation. Obviously, you can’t spend a night at every school on your list. But once you’ve homed in on your final choices, pack your suitcase and head off to as many of those campuses as possible in order to validate your perceptions. For students who have no familiarity with a college campus, start with a general “drive-thru” visit, then schedule a campus tour, and then try an overnight. This will provide you with a baseline experience for when your search begins in earnest.
Colleges have become savvier and more professional about overnights. Most have a formalized process, including a link on their website that connects you to a roster of hosts and the department of your intended major. This is the preferred option because there is more structure built into the visit. The other option is more informal: to stay with a friend, or a friend of a friend. Although we don’t typically recommend this route, the benefit is that the prospective student tends to have a more authentic experience.
Whichever way you choose to do it, be mindful of your behavior. I call this my Rules of Etiquette:
- Treat the visit like a job interview. This is a serious type of encounter, and you’re being watched.
- Don’t share everything about yourself. You want to be careful about TMI; a little restraint is always the best practice.
- Be prepared for awkward moments. Since you’ll be interacting with so many new people in an unfamiliar setting, uncomfortable situations will be a given. For example, you’ll be staying in someone’s room, and you’ll have to take a shower down the hall.
- Be respectful. Your goal is to leave the best possible first impression when you’re meeting students, professors and admissions officers.
- Check in with your parents. They’ll be curious—and probably also a little anxious—so let them know how everything is going.
- Send thank-you notes to your host and other principal people you meet. You’d be surprised—those notes go a long way.
An overnight is your first real taste of college life. Make it count.
PFA provides college planning guidance for high school students and families. For more information about PFA’s College Admissions Program click here.
Terri Houston is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Houston and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.