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How Overnight Visits Help You Pick a College

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.

I used to work in college admissions, and I always explained to students that one of the best ways to learn more about a school was to spend the night on campus. (Note: This was before COVID-19 reared its germy head.) 

5 Reasons Why an Overnight Campus Visit Helps You Decide on Your School

Reason 1: You get to know what a school’s really like.

There’s nothing better than getting to know the “vibe” of a school than spending the night on campus.

You’ll get a sense of the buzz of energy (or lack thereof) on a particular campus, learn whether people spend all their time in the residence halls or apartments.

You might even find out quickly whether students turn the campus into a suitcase campus every weekend. (This means the vast majority of students go home for the weekend.)

Reason 2: You get a sense of what students like to do.

Now’s your chance to find out what students do.

Now, this comes with a caveat.

Just because one group of students does something doesn’t mean that every group of students does it.

For every Wednesday night party animal you find, you might also find a group of students who likes to sit in a circle and knit. (Or at least study.) 

Reason 3: You find out what the residence halls look like. 

You know the glossy residence halls in the brochures you receive? The beautiful online snapshots of huge rooms with tall ceilings? And the tour that shows the best dorms (that probably got decorated by an interior designer)? 

Spending the night means you might get to see the reality—the more unkempt residence halls—and get a real idea of what the traditional first-year residence hall looks like. 

Reason 4: You can get the real tour of campus.

Your overnight host may take you into the school’s nooks and crannies, particularly if you ask nicely. Just like with the residence halls, tours only show the nicer aspects of campus.

Ask to see the real thing. 

Reason 5: You can hear about students’ struggles about the college firsthand.

Listen to what the students say to their friends.

What do they love? What do they complain about?

Listening and talking to them will give you a real sense of what they like and what they don’t love about college.

Again, a word of warning: Just because one student complains about the food doesn’t mean that all students have the same experience.

It’s a great way to weed out the colleges that don’t fit your personality, and sometimes that’s more beneficial than falling in love with every single college you visit. (You can only choose one!)

How to Set Up an Overnight Visit

Ready to take the plunge and set up an overnight visit? Take the following steps.

1. Check the school’s policies. 

Some schools offer very specific rules about when they host overnight visits. Some schools may not allow prospective students to visit on the weekends, for example. You may also want to set up the overnight visit in conjunction with scheduling a college visit.

2. Call the admissions office.

The admissions office will be able to tell you about its policies if you can’t find these policies online.

For example, maybe you decide to visit for two days and two nights because you must fly in from another state. That could involve some planning, so you want to clear it with the admission office.

3. Consider other individuals you might want to talk to. 

You want to take the time to get to know the campus at large.

If you want to know how classes work, ask if you can accompany a student to class. Find out if you can meet with a biology professor or someone from the career services department.

Why not take every advantage possible while your overnight host goes to classes during the day? (Better yet, attend classes with your overnight host!)

4. Carefully consider who you’d want to stay with.

Are you a tennis player? Love to play chess? Consider telling the individuals in the admission office what you like to do for extracurricular activities.

You want to stay with someone who has similar interests as you or you may end up having a miserable experience. 

5. Check your school schedule.

Don’t forget to check what you have going on at school!

If you have a math test, consider asking your teacher whether you can move it or take it early. You don’t want to mess up your schedule at home because of a college visit.

Can't Get on Campus? 4 Ways to Tour Virtually

What to Look for When You’re on an Overnighter 

You have so many opportunities to get to know the students at the school, but that begs the question: What should you ask? How should you make sure you have an opportunity to ask every single question and soak up every experience you can?

1. Ask a ton of questions.

OK, you don’t want to be that kid—the one who trails around after his or her host, asking incessant questions. However, you do want to discern what that school has to offer, so get as many questions in as you can.

2. Do whatever your overnight host does.

Do exactly what your overnight host does—within reason.

If your overnight host does something illegal, obviously, you don’t want to get involved.

A good rule of thumb is to check that expectations get laid out ahead of time. You may want to have an admission officer’s phone number handy or make sure your parents can pick you up if you need to get out of there.

At any rate, the reason you want to do what your overnight host does is to see what they’d do on any given night.

Don’t try to steer the activities. You want to get the most genuine experience possible.

3. Thank your host afterward.

This is a taxing experience for students, particularly if you both were strangers beforehand.

As an admissions counselor, I remember pairing up current students for a visit day we did called the Fall Overnighter. I had to make sure that our current students were very comfortable with the students I’d paired them with. 

Give them a gift card to the local coffee shop if your overnight host did a superb job.

It might just end up being the school you choose for the next four years—all because of them!

Squeeze in an Overnighter—Next Year

Right now, you won’t find too many schools offering overnight visits, so these tips fit rising juniors and seniors best.

It can seem nerve-wracking to spend the night on campus, but most students I worked with loved spending the night on campus.

They had an instant crew of buddies that they could meet up with the next year and offered one of the best ways to learn more about a college. 

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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!