While spontaneous exploration is a useful way to mold first impressions, doing some research can help students and parents avoid extra legwork later in the process, says Arizona State's Desch.
[Learn how to explore college campuses from home.]
"I would caution [students] against going in too unprepared," Desch notes. "It is an investment of time and there are so many things for them to learn and be prepared for. But that isn't to say that there shouldn't be a part of the visit that's a little more informal."
Students on college visits are advised to go beyond the standard campus tour, which can sometimes become a one-way conversation and a public relations push by the school. One of the most important things a student can do on a college visit is ask questions, says Conger, Collegocity's founder.
"Ask specific questions to [current students] about their personal experience on campus," Conger says. "Get personal with them. Go up to whomever you see and ask who they are. Be investigative."
[Consider 36 questions to ask on a college visit.]
Many high school students will have already made the decision to attend a school before they have even made a single visit. But, as Desch warns, the greatest mistake a student can make early on in the college search process is to limit his or her options.
"Make sure it's not [your] only college visit," Desch says. "Ultimately, when you make that decision to go to a college, make sure it's based on experience. Don't go to one place and make that decision."
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