College Visits

The college visit is often the most underutilized and overlooked element in the application process. Because of philosophy and scheduling constraints, many colleges will not offer an individual interview. Group information sessions are offered instead. Nevertheless, any college/university that will receive your application should be visited before that application is made. Too often, applicants become preoccupied with shaping their application in order to be desirable by the school, rather than taking the time to discover if the school is desirable to them.

We strongly encourage students and families to make use of the spring break as well as the summer months so that all prospective campuses are visited by the conclusion of summer break.
If this proves impossible, Gilman does provide three excused absences for campus visits.


An astonishing amount can be learned about a school by actually walking around its campus. Your subjective, emotional response to the people you meet and the grounds you explore will give you valuable information that viewbooks and catalogues simply cannot convey. A student may find he feels at home on several campuses; he may discover a congenial atmosphere at a school he had discounted previously or be disappointed by a school for which he had high hopes. Parents going along on these visits will have similar reactions, but not always the same ones their children have. We admonish students to remember who will (usually) bear the financial responsibility for those four expensive years at college, but parents should remember who will actually be living on the campus for those years.

A student-conducted tour is much better than an aimless walk. Sometimes students prefer to take the tour without parents so that they can get the feel of how it would be on their own. In any case, parents can visit the bookstore or dining room — good spots for assessing the school ambiance — while students are touring.

Students may prefer to do some visiting alone. Many colleges are set up for this and will arrange dorm accommodations and/or interviews. Call the Admissions Office to find out how the particular institution handles visits. Visiting a friend who is attending the college is a good arrangement and so is going with other students who are interested in the campus.

Successful Campus Visits

  1. Know something substantive about the school before you visit it.
  2. Contact the campus well in advance to arrange a visit. Know tour times, driving directions and distances, and the particular parking challenges of each campus. Avoid arriving at awkward periods - exam week, spring break, etc. (The school’s website will be a tremendous help.)
  3. Arrive early.
  4. Be open to meeting new and different sorts of people.
  5. Try to avoid forming judgments based on the quality of the weather or hip eloquence of your tour guide. Whether good or bad, these are not critical elements to an undergraduate education.
  6. Find the campus newspaper and read it.
  7. Sit in on a class.
  8. Sons and daughters should not be embarrassed by their parents’ mature and thoughtful questions. (Expressing that embarrassment may reflect poorly on the student.)
  9. Parents should not be overly concerned with whatever superficial elements appear most attractive to their children - state of the art weight room, glamour of fraternity houses, abundance of physical education options - provided that some rational evaluation occurs at some point.
  10. Talk to people and ask questions. Try to arrange discussions with coaches, teachers in your prospective departments, music faculty, etc. if it will be helpful.
  11. Try to limit your visits to two campuses per day.
  12. If your interests are not addressed on the tour, ask to see the appropriate facilities - science labs, athletic facilities, etc.

The Interview

This may be an integral part of the college visit, and it is best to prepare for the variety of types you may encounter during your college search. It is most important to be informed. Do some research in order to ask thoughtful questions. Remember that the interview may or may not be a factor in the college's decision-making process, but you should always conduct yourself in a manner that will reflect positively upon you. All interviews do not occur on campus. Some institutions offer the applicant an opportunity to interview with an alumnus located close to the applicant’s home.

Tips for Interviewing

  • Be on time. Allow time for finding parking, the admissions building, and the office.
  • Be yourself. Do not act the way you think the admission officer wants or expects of all applicants. State frankly your interests, thoughts on schooling, hopes for a college experience, and concerns so that the interviewer can see you as an individual. This is the only way he or she can get to know you.
  • The interview is a 50-50 proposition. On the one hand, the interviewer wants to learn more about you than is gleaned from a batch of papers. On the other hand, you should want to learn all that you can about the college; be prepared to ask specific questions.
  • Almost any question is legitimate if it helps you to gain a deeper knowledge of the college, and if it is not answered in the school’s literature. You should not waste time by asking questions that can easily be answered by reading the catalog. Do your homework. Please avoid questions that reveal a lack of preparation - “Tell me about your engineering program” (They have none.) “Tell me about your Greek life.” (There are no fraternities or sororities.) “I really want to major in business or pre-med.” (They do not have a business major and pre-med is NOT a major.)
  • Be prepared for a variety of interview techniques. You may be bombarded with questions (Why do you want to come here? What books have you read recently? What is your favorite course and why? What are your professional aspirations?) You may be made to feel very relaxed and comfortable. Do not dismiss the college just because you do not happen to like the interviewer; he or she is only one of many people you will encounter at the college.
  • There are four basic types of interviews. Determine what the college's policy is about the session.
    1. Evaluative: This rare form of interview becomes part of the admission folder.
    2. Informative: Each party should come out with more knowledge and understanding. The interviewer's impressions may or may not go into the admission folder.
    3. Group Sessions: The college gives a presentation and then welcomes questions from the group. No records are kept beyond your attendance.
    4. Alumni/ae: A local alumnus or alumna contacts the candidate, usually after the application has been filed. The influence of this interview in the admissions decision differs from school to school.
  • Dress comfortably (weather, style) to reflect who you are. Neat and clean is more important than any particular look. Comfortable shoes make the campus tour more enjoyable.
  • Take time to write a short thank you note to the person who interviews you. It is courteous and is a way to reinforce a positive impression. Keep a record of the person's name for follow-up telephone calls and visits.
  • Thank your interviewer. If someone from the admission office takes the time to interview or guide you, it is appropriate to send along a note of appreciation.

Styles and Opening Lines Used by Some Interviewers

  • So what can I do for you today?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What makes you interested in our college/university?
  • Our school has an honor code. What does that mean to you?
  • We do a great deal of reading and writing here.
    Tell me about the English program at your school.
    Tell me about a book you've recently read.
    If for class, what did you write about?
    If out of class, would you recommend it to a friend?
  • Do you keep up with national political issues? International affairs? How do you find out information other than from your parents?
  • What is your favorite book?
    Where is your favorite place?
    Who is your favorite teacher? Movie star? Rock star?
    What is your favorite thing to do?
    What is your favorite class/subject?
  • What is your worst fault? How do you deal with it?
  • Why do you want to go to college?
  • What do you bring to a community that will make you a good addition to our college?
  • How did you get here today?
  • Discuss summer; free time.
  • Other topics: travel, siblings, grandparents, parents, friends, sense of direction, goals.
  • Any questions? (There should be.)

Interview Questions

This is a suggested list of questions you may want to ask in your interview; the answers should help you understand the school. Some of these questions may be answered in the school’s literature, but many need to be asked in an interview and followed up by a careful inspection of the campus.

Academic Concerns

  • Explain your curriculum. When must I choose a major? What is available beyond the courses listed in your fields of interest?
  • How much opportunity is there for self-selection of courses? Is it possible to move across departmental lines into other related fields to build your own concentration?
  • Are there opportunities for independent study or honors programs? How important is independent work? Is there a study abroad plan? What is your AP college credit policy?
  • What is the student-faculty ratio? (Your concern might be with faculty availability.) How does advising work?
  • What teaching methods are used? How many students are in a typical course?
  • Are faculty available beyond the classroom? Is the faculty diverse — gender, race, educational background?
  • Who teaches the introductory courses — professors of all ranks or graduate assistants? Are opportunities available to do research with faculty?
  • What kind of counseling services are available if you run into problems academically? Are tutorial services available? What assistance is available for students with special needs? Is there a cost?
  • What percent of each entering class graduates four/five years later? What do graduates of the college do? What graduate schools do graduates attend?

Social Concerns

  • What types of housing are available? What are the procedures for choosing roommates? Is off-campus housing available and is it a popular option?
  • If a school has fraternities and sororities: What percentage of the student body belongs and what percentage lives in special houses? When is Rush? What is the college's official attitude toward Rush Is there a stated policy on discrimination? What are the social opportunities if you choose not to join a fraternity or sorority? What facilities are available for intramural athletics?
  • What activities (dances, concerts, speakers, informal athletics) does the college sponsor? Do students remain on campus on weekends?
  • What types of students are found in the student body? Does any one group or type dominate the campus atmosphere? How tolerant is the student body to issues of diversity such as political attitudes, gender concerns, distinctions in socio-economic background, ethnic backgrounds, differences in religious preference, variance in sexual orientation, attitudes toward drug and alcohol use, etc.
  • How much freedom is there in social rules and dormitory regulations? What is the alcohol policy? Is there pressure to use alcohol or drugs?
  • What role do students play in the college's social and academic life? Do they sit on judicial committees, or help influence policies at any level?
  • Are religious facilities available? If the school is church-related, how much emphasis is there on religion?
  • Are counseling services available to get on-campus jobs, summer employment, or to assist with graduation/career plans? Are counseling and medical facilities available for health needs? Is there a cost?
  • If coeducational, what is the ratio of women to men? If not coeducational, what colleges are nearby and what programs are offered to provide social interaction?


While many college campuses are closed to visitors right now, it is possible to glean a considerable amount of information through other resources. In addition to Naviance, College Guides, and your College Counselor, here are some other means to research colleges from afar:

  • Talk to students who attend the college. Contact the admissions office and ask them to help you connect with a student to ask them about their experience. There are students who work in the admissions office who are happy to do this. The Gilman CCO can help you connect to Gilman graduates as well.
  • Talk to an admissions officer. Though many colleges aren't accepting visitors, their admissions officers are still working and are looking to connect with prospective students and families to share information about their colleges. 
  • Read student blogs. Here is an example from Trinity College.
  • Use colleges' websites. Explore widely those things that matter to you. The "About the College" is always a good place to start, as is the "Academics" section.
  • Read college-sponsored and student-sponsored newspapers. To learn about issues and happenings on campus, go on the websites for the school's newspaper.
  • Look for virtual information sessions. Colleges know that it is a challenge not to be able to visit so they are adding extra details on their admissions pages. 
  • Take a virtual tour of a college at or Campus Reel.
  • Look at social media sites. Colleges have a presence on Instagram and other sites which can offer you interesting insights into campus life (even during these times), events, and/or resources and outreach efforts.

College Visit Tips


Be sure to contact colleges before you leave. They will provide visiting guides, maps, tour information, and lists of local accommodations.


Plan to visit no more than two or three colleges a day. Do not crowd your schedule or impressions will tend to blur.


Do try to include schools that are not necessarily among your targeted colleges but which are in the vicinity. For example, if a school you are interested in is in Boston, it makes sense to see one or more of the many other colleges in that city. You might be surprised by what you find.


Eat dinner in the nearest town rather than at your hotel. You'll get a better notion of what's available off-campus.


— DON'T ask your son his opinion of everything everywhere you go. You will both be sorting things out for some time after you return home. Some students keep journals they share after the entire visiting process is over.


— DON'T dismiss your parents' impressions. Not only are they probably going to foot the bill, but you may discover they have made observations and have perspectives that round out and complement your own.