The College Sleepover: Overnight Visits

The College Sleepover: Overnight Visits

(Reprinted with permission from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling- NACAC)

You remember those childhood sleepovers: a rainbow of sleeping bags (the coolest ones had the latest fad cartoon character on them), lots of eating and laughing, maybe even a silly prank phone call. You may be too mature to call strangers and ask them if their refrigerator's running (all together now: "you better go catch it!"), but you're just the right age for the high-school equivalent of a sleepover: the college overnight visit.

Many colleges offer prospective students the chance to spend the night in a dorm room. Some colleges set aside specific weekends (usually in the spring) for prospective students, but many others will work with you to schedule an overnight that fits into your timetable.

If you're already planning a visit during the day, why spend the extra time on an overnight?

"Day visits are pretty much 'canned,'" says George P. Lynes, II, a college admission consultant. "The admission office has set up tours to the best campus spots, the nicest dorm rooms, etc., and the tour guides have been programmed to say all the right things."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a college showing you its best side. You're not going to show up at a college in your most raggedy clothes and uncombed hair, either. But to get the real scoop on a college, you need to spend some time on campus without a tour guide at your side. And overnight visits are a fun way to get an inside view.

Perfect timing
The two best times to plan overnight visits are before applications are due and after you're accepted.

Most students don't have time to spend the night at ten different colleges, so try to wait until you have your list narrowed down. One strategy is to spend a night at the two colleges on your "possible" list that are the most different (for example, the big urban university and the small rural college). That way, you get an idea of what environment appeals to you more.

If you're thinking about applying early decision (ED), an overnight visit is a must (if the college offers them). You're making a commitment to attend your ED college if accepted, so spend as much time as possible on campus to make sure this is your clear first choice.

Looking forward to spring, overnight visits can be helpful in making that final decision between two or more colleges that accepted you. (Just something to keep in mind as you plan your spring schedule.)

Planning Ahead
First, do some research. Read the college's catalog, website, and any other information you have. Think about what you want to do while you're on campus. If you want to sit in on a particular class or meet with a faculty member or coach, make sure to ask the admission office about it when you schedule the trip.

As with all college visits, call the admission office a few weeks (or even months) ahead of time. Ask whether overnight visits are an option. If family members will be traveling with you, make sure to find a place for them to stay (the admission office can help with that, too).

While you're packing for the trip, throw in a notebook and pen, a book, and some homework. You may have some time on your own while your host studies or goes to class. You can use that time to jot down your impressions of the college or get some of your own homework done.

On Campus
When you arrive on campus, take a tour, attend an interview or information session at the admission office, and participate in any other activities that are part of a day visit.

At some point, the admission office will introduce you to your student host, and the "overnight" part will begin. You'll have a different experience depending on the college and the particular student you're paired with. But think of this as your chance to get a feel for what life at this college is like. Make an effort to be friendly and meet as many college students as you can.

Some things to do while you're on campus:

  • Eat at the cafeteria.
  • Check out a favorite hangout on campus.
  • Read the student newspaper (or stuff it in your backpack for later reading).
  • Visit the library.
  • Sit in on a class.
  • Hang out in the dorm with your host and his/her floormates.
  • If it's the weekend, check out the social scene.
  • Attend a lecture, play, or other campus-wide event.
  • Ask a lot of questions.

The Most Important Question
Try to find out as much as you can about a college while you're on campus. After all, the students you meet are THE source for inside information. They are doing what you are now planning for and dreaming about. Here are a few questions to get you started:

Why did you choose this college?

  • What is your favorite part of being at college?
  • What do you do on the weekends?
  • How many hours do you study per week?
  • What are the toughest/most popular/least popular majors?
  • How many times do you go back home during the school year? (for residential colleges)
  • What student groups are the most active?
  • What do you do on a typical weekday?
  • How many hours of sleep do you get per night?

But the most important question is one that only students-not the admission office-can answer: What's wrong with this place?

"Aside from the usual comments on the food--it ain't Mom's cooking at any college-the answers from honest students can be helpful, but not necessarily devastating," says Lynes. "After all, they're still there, so it can't be all that bad."

But don't go with just one answer. Ask several different students. You'll probably get several different answers, but each one will give you a clearer picture of campus life.

Taking a Test Drive
In short, an overnight visit is the closest thing high school students have to a college test drive. Go ahead-kick the tires, check the transmission, drive it around the block. Collect as many impressions as you can about the college. After all, you're thinking about spending four years of your life here. Make sure you'll still love it when that "new-college" excitement has worn off!

Written by Jennifer Gross.