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Take a College Visit Detour: Must-Have Meetings with These Departments

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

When you visit colleges, your first tendency might be to just fall into a single file line on a college tour.

Resist this urge!

You want to unearth as much as you can about the colleges you’ve considered. Treat this phase of the college search as if you’re a detective.

How do you meet these individual departments? Call up the admission office and ask to meet with them on your visit—it’s as simple as that! 

Department to Meet: Career Center

Meeting with the career center might not rise to the top as one of the most important aspects of your college visits. However, you might find it worthwhile to go out of your way to meet with the career center during your college stops.

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

According to a Gallup poll, college graduates who visit their college career centers position themselves as more likely to obtain full-time jobs than their peers who care less about the career center. (In fact, 67 percent of those who visit the career center will more likely find a job versus 59 percent of those who don’t visit it.) 

Truthfully, only about half of students visit their college career centers during their undergraduate years. That’s why it’s important to get used to going to career centers early on—before college even starts.

What do career centers teach, anyway? Great question.

Career centers show you how to:

  • Create advantageous social media accounts, including LinkedIn
  • Clean resume and cover letters
  • Attend workshops 
  • Visit employers and attend career fairs 
  • Connect you to a job network
  • Help you throughout your career

However, a career center doesn’t offer career placement. Career centers help you instead of doing the work for you.

Department to Meet: Academic Departments

Talking with a “real” professor might seem super scary.

However, meeting with an academic department offers a fantastic opportunity to glimpse into what professors can offer you academically. You also understand their niches, their passion for their work and even how much time they spend with you as a student.

Who do you want to have shaped you in college? Faculty members often become your mentors, and you want to make sure you get mentored by the best you possibly can.

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

You want to make sure the academic department you consider at a college fits you.

Naturally, you can’t meet with every single professor in a department, but it’s a great idea to meet with at least someone to get a sense of his or her academic philosophy, approach to teaching and how courses work. Also, try to sit in on a class to get a sense of how professors interact with students (and whether teaching assistants primarily teach classes). 

Remember that not all faculty members teach undergraduate students at large universities. At small, private liberal arts colleges, the faculty members teach students.

Department to Meet: Admissions Office

In many cases, part of the visit process involves meeting with the admissions office.

However, if you get a sense that this might get left off your schedule when you make plans to visit colleges, make sure you choose to visit with the admissions office.

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

You want to meet with this department because you need to know every single piece of information you can get about admissions.

Things the admissions office can help with:

  • Requirements for admission
  • Path to admission
  • Admission deadlines
  • Application tips and how to apply
  • Basic financial aid information
  • Information about the character of the institution
  • Guidance on the “best” of everything at that school — an admissions counselor can showcase all of the opportunities at that school. 

The admissions office can offer a plethora of information, so don’t forget this step!

Tips for Heading Off Campus for Even More Insight

Department to Meet: Alumni Office 

Now you really might feel confused.

However, you should meet with the alumni office when you go on college visits if your parents or grandparents graduated from that particular college.

You can also meet with them if, say, your older sister attended the institution.

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

At first glance, this might seem like the last thing you want to do on a college visit.

However, a meeting with the alumni office offers you a depth to the college search that you probably won’t experience at other schools.

The alumni office should shower you with attention, give you inside tips and maybe even take you on a tour of your parents’ old residence hall! In most cases, parents find it very special to return to their alma maters, so allow them that “treat.” You might find yourself extremely surprised to learn more about your family legacy while you visit. 

The easiest way to connect with the alumni department: Talk to the admissions office. You can schedule a visit with the alumni office as part of your visit. 

If you can’t arrange a visit with the alumni office, many schools have alumni-admission programs that work to connect prospective students with graduates in their city or region. You can also ask to speak with someone in a particular major or career interest area.

You never know what may come from connections you make during the admission process. Soon, you’ll look for internships—what better way to begin than with an alumni connection?

Department to Meet: Financial Aid Office

A visit with the financial aid office might sound as fun as going to the dentist.

But remember that the financial aid office at a college or career school helps prepare information on financial aid. The outcomes of meeting with this office help you apply for and receive student loans, grants, scholarships and other types of financial aid.

Meeting with this office, believe it or not, could affect the rest of your life.

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

You want to meet with the financial aid office because it holds the answers to how much it will cost you to attend college.

The financial aid officer you meet with will go over everything you need to know about tuition, room, board and fees. The individual will also cover the number of scholarships, grants and loans you can get from the institution and the federal government.

You can talk about what you might expect to pay out of pocket, how to file the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile and other tasks you need to take care of throughout the course of the year.

Department to Meet: Athletic Department

Needless to say, you don’t have to meet with the athletic department if you don’t play sports.

The athletic department could involve meeting with a specific coach or even booking a separate meeting with the athletic director (if you really want to know about a school’s athletic program from the top down!). You have a better chance of meeting individually with these people if you have some excellent athletic skills. 

Why You Want to Meet with this Department

Start with the admissions office when you want to meet with a specific athletic department. The admissions office knows the best athletic contacts for students who want to play sports in college. 

Note that you might find it impossible to meet with a coach when he or she is in season. You want to try to meet with coaches out of season whenever possible.

Things to do while meeting with the athletic department:

  • Speak with your position coach.
  • Get to know potential teammates. 
  • Stay overnight if you can! It gives you a great perspective about what the team dynamics look like and what it’s like to play there. 
  • Take a look at the training, practice and game facilities.
  • Watch a practice! Practice offers a great overview of what you can expect on a day-to-day basis with a particular team.

Are You Booking These Departments During College Visits?

When you’re visiting colleges, you want to do your due diligence and examine every aspect of the college that you can. Leave no stone unturned! 

Talk to as many people as you can, and if you have trouble thinking of questions to ask, check out the list of powerful questions to ask on a college tour.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!