An overnight stay can be invaluable to you in uncovering the true college culture hiding behind the glossy brochures and inspiring slogans. It's an important tool for helping you choose the perfect college. Here's why you should leave the nest and spend a night in college.
1. You'll Meet Current Students Who Don't Work for Admissions
Tour guides, overnight hosts, and anyone else who has a standing relationship with Admissions got there because they adore their school and they want to spread the word, and they may be less inclined to talk critically about the college you're visiting. That's not to say that they're not being genuine: it's likely that the college is just a great fit for them, so they don't have many downsides to discuss. But, before you make your decision (whether it's to send an application or to send in your first deposit), it's a good idea to have a more balanced concept of the school.
Lucky for you, if you do an overnight visit, you'll get to meet your host's friends, roommates, and floormates. They won't all be the super enthusiastic cheerleader types when it comes to talking about their college experience. This is your chance to ask current students who aren't part of the Admissions operation about what they like and what they don't like about their college experience.
2. You'll See What Campus Is Like on a Weeknight
You're going to spend more weeknights than weekend nights in college. An overnight visit is the perfect chance to find out what evenings at the college you're visiting are like. You'll get answers to questions that will help you gauge what kind of work-life balance current students have. "Are people hanging out together?" "Are they studying intensely or casually or not at all?" "What kinds of events (speakers, performances, screenings, club meetings) happen on weeknights?" You also have a good chance on an overnight visit to ask current students work-life questions, i.e. "how many hours do you tend to study on weeknights? on weekends?" Granted, quantity of work tends to increase at certain times in the semester, but it's still pretty telling if they all look up from behind a huge stack of library books and tell you in a frazzled tone that they never have any fun.
3. You'll Go to Classes, Sometimes with Your Host
You can attend classes on most college campuses without doing an overnight visit, but for all you shrinking violets out there, if you do an overnight visit, you have the opportunity to accompany your host or your host's friend to class (or you can strike out on your own, of course).
- Perk 1: when you're choosing classes to go visit, you can get your host and others to weigh in on their favorite professors or courses so that you'll see the best teaching the college has to offer.
- Perk 2: when you're sitting with current students, they can show you their class materials so that you're not completely lost, and when it's all done, they can give you an honest opinion of the professor as compared to other professors they've had in the department.
- Perk 3: you'll feel just a little bit more legitimate when you're under a current student's wing. (Keep in mind that college academics are very different from high school).
4. You'll Eat in a Dining Hall Surrounded by Current Students
Colleges vary on whether or not they allow visitors to campus to eat in their dining halls. By doing an overnight visit, you are guaranteed to eat what the current students eat, and even better, you'll eat it with them. Dinner after a long day of classes is a great way to see lots of current students interacting with each other, and for you to ask lots and lots of questions of your host's friends.
5. You'll Live in the Dorms for a Night
Most campus tours do include a visit to a dorm room, but sometimes Admissions is sneaky and sends tours to a particularly spacious new dorm, immaculately decorated, of course. An overnight visit is a good opportunity to see what living in a regular dorm is like--and to ask your host and his or her friends about the housing situation at the college. It's also useful to observe how people living on the same floor interact. Do they smile at each other and chat in the halls? Or is it clear that dorms are just a place to sleep? And most importantly, which do you prefer?
6. You Can Attend Club Meetings or Other Campus Events
Lots of things happen on college campuses on weeknights, such as club meetings, lectures, performances, art openings, intramural sports, performance rehearsals. When you're with your host, ask questions about what things are going on that evening, and if anything strikes your fancy, see if you can arrange to go. Even if your host doesn't usually attend the meeting of your favorite organization ever or can't go to the performance you really want to see, they can usually find one of their friends who's involved or who's free, or you can go by yourself. Alternately, your host may have a meeting/performance/lecture he or she needs to attend, and even if you're not sure it's your cup of tea, it's not a bad idea to tag along--something might surprise you.
7. You Might Meet Your Future Classmates
Are you overnighting during an on-campus program, like admitted students' weekend or a spring preview event? Getting to know other high school seniors who are interested in or have been admitted to the same school as you can be a really fun experience. It's a great chance to meet people interested in similar things and to scope out who might be in the incoming class--in other words, your potential future classmates. Once you've run the gamut of predictable questions, "What's your name? Where are you from? Where else did you apply? What do you want to study? What are your interests?" you can sit back, chat, and attend events with your little-while friend. Who knows? Maybe you'll both end up back on the same campus come September and can reconnect then.
8. You Can Do a Better Job of Imagining Yourself There
For many people, deciding where they want to go to college all comes down to fit, i.e. whether or not the college has the combination of academic programs, extracurricular opportunities, community support, location, and social scene that they're looking for. Some of these variables are easy to figure out--just visit the college's website or take a campus tour and you'll get a laundry list of the college's academic and residential programs, information about its location, and a catalogue of its student organizations. But surfing the web and even taking a tour won't help you figure out what a class discussion in an area of your academic interest is like, and it won't tell you how you fit into a standard evening hanging out with friends in the dorms. At the bottom of it all, that's the real value of doing an overnight visit: you'll experience a day-in-the-life at the college you're considering, which means that you'll be better equipped to accurately envision yourself spending the next four years of your life there.
What to Expect During a College Overnight Visit
You might be looking forward to the overnight visit, or dreading it. Some students think their parents are being cruel to drop them off for this insider's look at the college they are considering. Here is a hypothetical college visit to show you it can be painless and worthwhile.
The Meeting: the Slightly-Awkward-But-Still-Fun Part
Late in the afternoon on the fateful visit day, you arrive at the Admissions Office and check in with the receptionist, and meet your campus tour guide and overnight host. Your host is probably only a few years older than you.
Your host has probably been up late getting ahead on homework and cleaning the dorm room where you'll be sleeping on the floor tonight. Your host greets you and your parent and explains that you'll be all finished with your overnight at about lunchtime tomorrow.
You'll walk out of the Admissions Office and chat a bit about your trip to campus and whether or not you've been here before. Your host will play tour guide a bit as you pass through the center of campus.
You'll arrive at the residence hall and go upstairs to the room. You'll deposit your bag and now begins your first real conversation with your host. The first question will probably be whether or not you'd like an informal, personalized tour of the campus before dinner. This is the time to get to know each other. Expect lots of questions about your academic interests, the things you do for fun, and your high school; you're hopefully going to ask me lots of questions about my academic, extracurricular, and social experiences at this college that you're considering.
This is the time for you to ask your host the fun questions (Why do you love it here? What's your best memory of your first year?) but also the hard ones (What's your biggest complaint about the classes? Does literally everyone get drunk here every Friday night? Are people really judge-y?). Ask your host the things that you're afraid to ask anywhere else.
The Evening: the All-In-Good-Fun Part
You'll likely soon meet your host's friends in the residence hall as dinner time approaches. You will all troop to the dining hall, where you learn that college life revolves around food and not much else. You'll eat with your host and his or her friends. You can learn their names, majors, and other college student vital stats such as why they chose this school.
Dinner is your chance to see the college community in action and observe many other groups, lounging around their own tables for a post-dinner chat, and maybe to envision yourself doing exactly that in a year or so. Listen to what they talk about; listen when they complain. You'll find your insider perspective hiding in the little things.
For the rest of the evening, you have options.
- Option A: Your host needs some study time. You go to the library/campus cafe/study room/residence hall room to work for a bit.
- Option B: Go to a performance, organization meeting, lecture or another campus event.
- Option C: Stay in and hang out or watch a movie or get silly on the internet with the friends.
After Options A, B, or C, you probably go for a walk downtown, maybe go have ice cream in the necessary college town frozen treats joint. Then you come back, arrange your air mattress, brush our teeth, and turn in for the night.
The Morning: the Nerd-tastic Fun Part
In practice for your upcoming year with a roommate, you and your host will have to negotiate showering, primping, and changing clothes. You'll grab a quick breakfast and then head off towards class. You may have elected to go with your host to his or her first class or taken one of the friends up on their offer to take you to their morning class, or you may have decided to strike out on your own.
If you go to class by yourself, please introduce yourself to the professor beforehand. You'll have the chance to talk to a real, live college professor in a subject area that interests you. Plus, they won't wonder who the random new person is in their class or call on you for an answer.
After class, you'll meet up with your host and go to lunch. You can ask your last hard-hitting questions. Then you'll collect your bag from the room and trudge back to the Admissions Office. Your host will hope you enjoyed your stay and tell you to send an email or text if you have any more questions.