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.

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 wait until you have your list narrowed down. One strategy is to spend a night at the two colleges on your list that differ the most (for example, a big urban university and a small rural college). That way, you get an idea of what environment appeals to you more.

If you’re thinking about applying early decision, an overnight visit is a must. Spend as much time as possible on campus to make sure the school is your clear first choice.

Overnight visits can be just as helpful when making a  final decision between two or more colleges that have accepted you.

Planning Ahead
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).

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 visit.

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 the scheduled visit.

At some point, the admission office will introduce you to your student host, and the overnight part will begin. Your experience depends on the college and the student you’re paired with. But think of this as your chance to get a feel for campus life. 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.

Get the Inside Scoop

Try to find out as much as you can about the college while you’re on campus. After all, the students you meet can give you the inside scoop.

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?
  • 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?

Ask several different students. Their responses can help you decide whether or not the college is right for you. You’ll probably get several different answers, and each one will give you a clearer picture of campus life.