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College Visits Toolkit

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Learn how to lead a successful college campus visit for your students.

College visits give middle and high school students the opportunity to interact with students and staff, experience campus life through activities and tours, and reinforce key concepts about the application and financial aid process.


Why college visits matter

College visits are important for each stage of the college choice process. For early grades, campus visits help students see themselves as college students, encouraging a college-going identity and aspirations for education after high school.

Visiting college campuses is also vital during the college search and choice phases, exposing students to a broad range of options, identifying the colleges that will be a good fit, and understanding the specific steps to apply and pay for college.

College visits are also critical for parents, especially for those that did not attend college. In fact, students whose parents accompany them on campus visits have increased odds of attending college.

“Getting on campus makes a huge difference. College visits make kids feel connected to…what college looks like and what it takes to go there. [They] see it as a possibility.” Principal


Smiling La Pine students in front of Blue Mountain Community College

Before the visit

Use our College Visit Checklist to stay organized.

Decide on a purpose

The purpose of any college visit is to increase awareness of higher education and foster familiarity with a university campus. Be intentional about what students will specifically achieve with their visit.

Purpose Examples
Learn the requirements and steps for admission Attend a presentation by the admissions office
Learn how to pay for college Attend a presentation by the financial aid office
Connect with college students Hear from a student panel
Learn about career options and majors Meet with an academic department
Discover support services available Meet with tutoring services
Learn about extracurricular activities Do an activity with a student club  
Attend an athletic or cultural event
Enhance class curriculum Science class visits a research lab  
History class studies the history of the college

Consider what is developmentally appropriate for each grade level. For example, 7th graders don’t need the details of the financial aid process, but 11th graders do.

Think about the scope and sequence of college visits so students have the option to visit a variety of campuses (including community colleges, public universities and private, not-for-profit institutions) over their school career. If possible, tailor your visit schedule to the colleges or programs that students are interested in.

The colleges you choose to visit may be based on your goals for the visit, geographic proximity, or tour availability. Map out your school’s visit schedule with our College Visit Planning Guide .

Determine costs and funding

Campus visits can be a very affordable field trip for your students since programming is generally offered free of charge. Costs may include transportation, substitute teacher salaries, and food.

If your school district or program doesn’t have funding for campus visits, consider applying for grants. In addition, colleges may have funds for special groups or events to help with transportation or meal costs.

Contact the college

Contact the college or university of your choice at least one month ahead of your preferred visit. The admissions or enrollment office is usually the best first point of contact.

Be clear on what you would like your students to see and do. Activities might include:

  • Campus tours led by students
  • Student panels
  • Hands-on activities related to class curriculum
  • Admissions and/or financial aid presentation
  • Lunch in a dining hall
  • Athletic facilities

Be flexible! Understand that not all of your requests might be met due to staffing, space, or time limitations. Consider bringing smaller groups on multiple days and having multiple dates that you are able to visit.

In some cases, you may need to do extra coordination with college staff or students in order to do custom activities. Consider contacting alumni from your high school who attend the college to serve as informal tour guides and panelists.

One option is to visit a university or college during their special event days geared towards a particular group, such as Spring Preview Days for high school juniors.

Pros of special event days Cons of special event days
More programming and special presentations or tours available Less opportunity for custom programs
Information for specific groups Often takes place during breaks when college students aren’t in class or on campus
May include lunch or transportation funding Part of a larger group with other schools

Students on a tour of Willamette University

Work out logistics

Keep on top of the little things that you will need to do at your school in order to take a field trip. This may include:

  • Requesting substitute teachers
  • Organizing bus transportation
  • Ordering bagged lunches
  • Recruiting chaperones
  • Collecting permission slips
  • Creating nametags

Be sure to check in periodically with your college campus contact. Discuss or share:

  • Assigning groups (consider small groups chaperoned by 1 adult or split by gender to minimize behavior problems)
  • Directions, maps, and parking information
  • Cell phone numbers for chaperones, staff and bus drivers
  • Items students should bring (or leave at home)
  • Expectations or code of conduct for students and chaperones

Prepare students

College visits are most successful when they are not an isolated, one-off event. Therefore, prepare students for their upcoming visit with activities related to the purpose of the visit.

You can use a general college readiness curriculum, such as the ones from College Board, ECMC or NACAC, or use the activities in our College Fit Toolkit. At a minimum, students can research the college and think about questions they have with our Online College Scavenger Hunt.

Teachers can also incorporate college-related lessons into their curricula, such as assigning a history project about famous college alumni or a math lesson on compound interest and college savings accounts.

Finally, assess student knowledge and aspirations about college with a College Visit Pre-Survey .

Prepare parents

Parents also benefit from a visit to college campuses. Invite all parents to attend as chaperones, and consider holding a Parent Night just prior to the college visit to give the basic facts about the importance of college, financial aid, and how they can help their student.

Use our Chaperone Expectations to help orient parents and volunteers to their responsibilities on the day of the visit.

During the visit

On the day of the campus visit, the best advice is to “go with the flow”, as unexpected events almost always occur! Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather and advise students to do the same, as most college visits require a lot of walking outside.

While en route, review expectations for students and chaperones. Consider playing College Trivia Games on the bus to reinforce pre-visit activities. Remember to communicate with your campus contact if you will be early or late.

Once on campus, help students actively engage with the visit by having them complete a College Comparison Score Card or reflect with a writing prompt. Use our College Visit Reflections for Educators to do the same. Take photos to share on social media and the school or local newspaper. Chaperones should supervise students and monitor behavior as needed.

Most importantly, have fun. If you enjoy yourself, the students will too!

Smiling students from Illinois Valley High school in front of an OIT sign

After the visit

Reinforce learning outcomes and maintain the enthusiasm of students and parents after a college visit with appropriate follow-up activities and lessons like college t-shirt days, parent nights or classroom lessons.

Consider sending thank you notes written by you or the students to any staff or students that made your day on campus memorable.

Assess the impact of a college visit with our College Visit Post-Survey . Track your student’s aspirations and identify areas to improve the experience for future visits. Then, start planning the next one!