One great way to find out if a potential school is right for you is to actually spend a full day and night on campus.

An overnight can help you get a real feel for the school and be a determining factor in if school winds up on your college list. You can also do overnight stays later in your application process and use them as a gauge of where you should ultimately attend school. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your overnight stay on campus.

“The point of college is not to be a robot, but to open yourself to the life, experiences and people around you.”

Carlota Zee

Chat With Your Host Before You Arrive

A student host is more than just the person who has the key to the dorm where you’ll sleep. They’re a valuable resource for info on student life and how to prepare for your overnight stay. Get in touch well before you arrive to sort out logistics. You should ask about the bedding items you need to bring, which could be as little as a pillow or as much as an air mattress and sheets. Also let your host know what you’re interested in exploring on campus. They can hook you up with the events, classes and clubs relevant to your specific requests. Ask about eating in the dining hall too. They may have free passes to the cafeteria. If they don’t, you should be prepared to pay for meals on your own, either on or off campus.

Set Up Meetings

Nathaniel Turner, author of Raising Supaman, recommends scheduling any meetings you might want to have well in advance. “You should definitely schedule some time with an academic adviser. You’ll not only make a great first impression, but you’ll gain some valuable insight about how to proceed over the next four years. I also recommend meeting up with the dean of the department for your potential major.” If the dean is not available, try to schedule time with any head of the department. They are often in the loop on internships, fellowships, scholarships and jobs. Starting a relationship with the department leaders early could have big benefits down the road.

Plan Questions in Advance

There may have been questions you didn’t get to on your college tour, so now is the time to get those answers. Ruth Wilson, an educational therapist, advises, “Use this time to ask more personal questions that won’t be included on a brochure, such as, ‘How stressful was your first week?’ ‘How hard was it to meet other freshmen?’ and ‘What do you know now that you wish you knew before you moved in?’” She says to focus in on things they love about their college experience, but to also be sure you delve into what they don’t like or wish they’d known before applying or enrolling. 

Get Familiar With the Campus

You don’t want to waste valuable time wandering aimlessly. Daryl Hawkins, the dean of students at Eastern University, always encourages students to figure out some campus logistics beforehand. “Go online and look at a map of the campus and figure out what sticks out to you. Look for the key places you need to know, so that when you arrive, you aren’t completely lost.” Wilson suggests taking the official online tour, if available, before your overnight stay. “This gives you some basic information about how many students are housed in each room and how many people share a bathroom,” she says. Good information to know as you pack, since you might want to bring a bathrobe or shower shoes if the bathrooms are shared.

Plan and Prioritize

You’re definitely going to want to check out the campus amenities, like the dining hall and other dorm rooms. And there may be official informational meetings if you arranged this stay through the school, so your time is going to be limited. Really think about what your must-do activities are and what you need to know to make the best decision possible when it comes time for applications and enrollment. Do you want to explore anything off campus? Sit in on classes? See the theater program? Make a list of what you’d like to do and organize it by priority level. Hopefully you’ll be able to check everything off your list, but if not, at least you’ll get through the most important items.

Go With an Open Mind

A little flexibility can go a long way during your overnight stay. Carlota Zee, a career coach and college life expert, regrets not being more open-minded. “When I stayed overnight at Wellesley, I was very intimidated and thus very close-minded about what I allowed myself to experience.” Now, she recommends students do the exact opposite. Be open to a new idea from your host or attend an event outside your interest area. She explains, “The point of college is not to be a robot, but to open yourself to the life, experiences and people around you.” Give yourself a taste of that during your time on campus.

With a little planning and thought, your overnight stay can give you a real flavor of your potential school and hopefully help you make your application and enrollment decisions with a lot more confidence.