I visited my first college, Amherst, the summer before my freshman year of high school. I had already tagged along on countless college trips with my older brother, who was at that point an entering college sophomore. Truth be told, I didn’t have the best attitude; it was my parents’ idea, and I felt like it was way too early to be visiting colleges.

 

Going on the trip early did have some benefits, though. Previously, I had wanted to attend a small, liberal arts school like Amherst, but after the tour, I realized that I preferred a more urban setting and a larger campus.

 

When’s the right time to start visiting colleges? There’s no easy answer to that question. Read on to find out some of the benefits and drawbacks of starting early.

 

 

The Pros

Research takes time.

After visiting a campus, you’ll have time to research the school, if it sparks your interest. You’ll have time to thoroughly invest in and figure out what the school is really like. A first impression isn’t necessarily your final one, so having time to really investigate can help you decide if a particular college is the right place to spend your next four years.

 

You’ll have time to change your mind and decide what you really want.

The earlier you start visiting campuses, the more time you’ll have to really hone your interests and find a school with the right fit. Learn more about this process in Is It Too Early to Be Making My College List?.

 

You’ll learn about your own interests and what appeals to you in a college.

Like me, you may think that you prefer a small, liberal arts setting, but may discover early that you actually prefer an urban setting, or vice versa. Visiting a campus can tell you a lot about what you really want in a college, which will inform your college visit plan later. For instance, you may realize that you should be looking in big cities, as opposed to more rural or suburban areas.

 

You’ll learn how to do a campus tour right.

When you visit a school, there are many factors to consider: the community, what classes are like, the feel of the student body, and other considerations. (Learn more about what aspects to review in What Student Tours and Admissions Meetings Won’t Tell You About a College.)

 

Starting early allows you to hone your strategy and gives you time to reflect on and gauge a school’s fit. You’ll also learn how to properly debrief on a school after you visit it.

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The Cons

Your interests can—and probably will—change during high school.

You need to be flexible when making your college list. Your interests will evolve considerably over the course of high school, and you probably won’t finish as the same person you were when you started. As you change, so may the type of school you want to attend. So, a college that appeals to you now may not appeal to you later.

 

You may not understand yourself or your own interests well enough yet.

It’s easy to be caught up in the rankings of schools and other people’s interests. However, you’ll gain maturity over the next few years and better understand yourself as a result. This can influence you to, for instance, visit all the Ivies, rather than spend time looking at schools that might be better suited to your interests.

 

It can get expensive to visit colleges.

Since you may still be figuring out high school and may not have given too much thought into building your college list, you may not want to expend the resources until your college search is really underway.

 

There are other ways to gauge a campus’s fit without visiting, such as through online research, and talking to past students. We explore this more in How Can I Figure Out a School’s Culture Without Visiting the Campus?.

 

Visiting campuses, particularly ones that aren’t close to you, can get expensive, when you factor in travel, hotels, and meals out. You may want to put off the actual visits until you are absolutely sure that you’re interested in the schools.

 

You may not have had time to conduct research.

Research is an essential part of the college search. While researching the school after a visit is important, so is doing your homework before. You want to invest some time looking into a college before you visit, so you’re not wasting your time on a campus that might not be a good fit. Check out Kick off Your College Research This Summer with These 5 Tips for thoughts on how to properly research a school.

 

As an underclassman, you might not have had the time to fully research your schools—or even build a college list. That means you won’t get as much out of the visit as you might later on.

 

 

The Takeaway

There are certainly some things you can learn from visiting campuses early, but not everyone may be up for it. If you decide to visit schools as an underclassman, make sure you’re getting the most out of your visits: do your research, and  take the time to really get to know the campus. It might be worth visiting again later in high school to solidify a school as a good choice for you.

 

For more tips on visiting schools and creating your college list, check out:

 

5 Tips for Building Your First College List

How to Start Your College Search

Tips for Choosing the Best Fit College

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine