A pile of glossy college brochures has just arrived in your mailbox. As you flip through the pages, you soon discover something: Every college has the greenest trees and the bluest skies you've ever seen. Every college is filled with happy students and attentive professors. Every college looks like the most perfect place on earth.
It would be fun if you could spend a year just visiting every college that caught your eye. But since you can't put high school on hold for that long, try instead to shorten your list of potential colleges to about five to seven (for tips on prioritizing, see "College Choice Worksheet," page 40). Then, once you've narrowed your choices, it's time to plan your campus visits.
A brochure and "virtual" visit to the college's website will give you a good idea of what the place/looks like. Your goal now is to get the most complete idea of what a campus is like: Is the campus quiet and peaceful, or jumping with activity? Are the students generally super outgoing, or pretty laid back?
Visiting colleges gives you the opportunity to talk to students and professors, to see a school's classrooms and activities up close, and to observe how everyone interacts.
If you're able to visit several of the schools you've selected as "finalists," that's great! Those visits can help you figure out which qualities of a school are most important to you. But if you don't have the time or money to visit all your picks, you'll need to think about your priorities again. On that short list of schools, are there two or three that really stand out as your top choices? Plan to visit those schools. Many students visit campuses that are within driving distance. But it's just as important to visit schools that are far away--especially those that are your first or second choice. You'll be spending the next four years at a college, so it's a good idea to check it out …