If you are a rising high school junior, now is a good time to start your college search. But how do you begin? Virtual tours on college websites, www.youniversitytv.com and www.unigo.com do a good job of showcasing campuses. However, nothing replaces stepping onto a college campus and experiencing the campus firsthand.

Size matters Students may begin their search by determining the right size college. Visit a few local college campuses to get a sense of what different size schools look and feel like. Tour a large university (over 10,000 undergraduates), a medium college/university (between 3,000 and 10,000 undergraduates) and a small college (under 3,000 undergraduates).

Size may be deceptive Schools with similar size student bodies may seem very different depending on acreage, number and size of buildings. Some small colleges that have many buildings of varying size that are spread over 100 acres may feel much larger than a college that has fewer larger buildings set on 40 acres.

Location influences campus culture Determine the right campus location early in your college search. Visit schools in different settings: city, suburbs and rural. Some students want to be close to a city center, while others want a college experience where they are immersed in the college bubble with a rural setting and little outside distractions. Still others desire a college or university with a “college town.”  Penn State in State College, PA and University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI are good examples of universities with lively “college towns.”

Not all settings look alike There are differences among campuses that have similar settings. For example, some city campuses are gated or enclosed, while others are integrated into the city. NYU considers Manhattan to be an extension of its campus. Without the purple NYU banners hanging from the buildings, it’s hard to distinguish between NYU and neighborhood buildings. On the other hand, Columbia University has an insulated campus in NYC. Once inside Columbia’s gates, the campus has a traditional feel.

Juniors, summer and early fall are great times to sample a few local college campuses of different sizes and in different locations. Once you identify the ultimate size and setting that is right for you, begin to define your other criteria before compiling a balanced list of schools that align with your qualifications. Finding the right college match takes time. Start early and visit campuses. Good luck!

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College Visits—Where Do I Begin?
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