When you’re trying to pick a college, there are numerous decisions you can consider without even stepping foot on a campus. What do you want to study? How much are you able to pay? Do you seek a small or large student body? What kind of school will accept you in the first place? All these questions, and many more like them, can be answered with some targeted research online.

But there are many other factors that can only truly be determined by setting foot on campus. You might have found a school that looks perfect on paper, with an academic focus and reputation for quality that you seek, but the college may seem completely different to you when you actually go and visit. You might not like the people. You may find the classes unappealing. The food and the dorm rooms might gross you out. People usually don’t have strongly negative reactions to schools that they liked on paper, but often times they will walk away with a mixed or negative “vibe”. Conversely, you may get a great vibe from the most unsuspecting of places.

So, if you can afford to make the trip, a campus visit can be incredibly beneficial. But what should you keep in mind as you tour and walk around? Let’s take a look at a few helpful considerations:

Things to know about college visit1. Pay attention to vibrancy. An admissions tour can’t stage a vibrant campus, so if you visit during the school year keep an eye out for any and all signs of activity. Are students interacting on the paths between classes? Are people rushing or idling around? Is anything happening in the main quad? You also might want to look for “relative vibrancy.” For example, what building seems more vibrant – the dining hall or the library?

2. Have questions ready. One of the great aspects of a campus visit is that you are surrounded by current students of that college. Each and every student is an expert about the school, and consequently you should talk to people in an effort to gauge their opinions. Having a few questions ready beforehand can certainly help. If you can’t think of any good questions, ask students: “What do you like least about this school?” Those answers will probably be informative.

3. On the campus tour, focus on what matters to you. A campus tour will take you all around a school and will likely try to highlight the most appealing elements of the institution. Along the way, make sure that you concentrate primarily on those places that apply best to you. If you’re interested in a career in medical coding, for example, the construction of an impressive new English construction shouldn’t sway you in the least.

4. Live like a student. Spending at least part of your visit living your day like a student would. Eat at the dining hall. Sit in on a class. Watch a sporting event or athletic practice. Spend a few hours sitting in the library. Even if you expect to rarely eat on campus as a college student, for example, it is still beneficial to have a meal in the dining hall and get a feel for being a student at that school.

5. Maximize your face-to-face exposure where it most counts. Since people are usually more receptive in a face-to-face interaction, stop by the admissions office, the financial aid office, and maybe the office of a sports coach whose team you’d like to join. Doing so can convey the degree of your interest and can attach a face to you as an applicant. While this piece of advice is certainly more applicable to your admissions process, a successful meeting with financial aid may help you leave with a better vibe about the school.

6. Explore the area. Unless the college is located in a small town, you will likely spend a considerable amount of time exploring a school’s local area once you become a student. Stepping off campus during your visit and exploring the larger town or city can therefore be helpful in making your decision. Even a drive or a run around the nearby neighborhood can provide a good deal of perspective.

There are many other things you may want to keep in mind during your college visit, but hopefully this list provides you with a good starting point. Ultimately, however, even if you look for all the right things and ask all the right questions, the greatest benefit you get from a tour is the feeling in your gut the moment you walk away – the vibe. If the vibe is a good one, many of the above discussed details matter far less.