If your making a $100,000 investment and dedicating four years of your life to the school, doesn't it make sense to spend the time and money to check out the campus before you make the purchase? Conducting college visits is easily over looked and a misunderstood part of the process, but if at all possible, we highly recommend it.
Maximize the Experience:
Coordinate it with the admissions department. Though you might be able to go visit a school where you have friends, stay with them in their room, go on the campus tour and even attend a class or two without the school ever officially knowing you stepped on campus, this doesn't help you nearly as much as letting the school know you're coming and are interested in applying. Take the opportunity to market yourself!
Arrange beforehand to meet with someone from the department you're interested in. This will not only help you understand what it will take to get into your major and graduate, but give you an opportunity to sell yourself. If you really impress somebody in the department, it could help you when it comes to scholarships.
Bring copies of your senior picture and your resume. You'll want to give this to the admissions department and also to the department representatives with whom you meet.
Ask good questions. At the end of the day, this trip is still more about you learning about the school than anything else, so come prepared with a list of questions and things you want to learn about.
Talk with current students, hopefully with those in a major in which you're interested. Students will be happy to chat and answer questions, and you'll get a much different perspective from students than you will from the admissions department or the faculty and staff.
At the end, write a hand written thank you note. Don't be too gushy, but do be grateful. A simple note that thanks them for their time and mentions a thing or two that impressed you about the school is sufficient.
Crystal Anderson is the president of Crystal Clear College Planning, which helps Seattle-area families plan financially and academically for college. Learn more about our free local workshops on planning for college.