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Open Houses: Are They Worth It?

Summer is a popular time to visit colleges. It’s also a popular time for the colleges to host open houses.

As you plan your college visits, consider attending an open house. Open houses are different than a traditional visit. If they are done well, they give prospective families an opportunity to experience campus life in a more comprehensive way.

If you are on a college’s mailing list, you will find out about upcoming open houses. Colleges will also list dates for open houses on their websites. Most programs require a reservation as the colleges want to plan for a crowd. Make sure to reserve your spot as these programs fill up quickly.

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Open houses give prospective families a glimpse into daily life on campus. They typically last for a half-day to a full day. Campus tours are offered along with information sessions led by admissions staff. Breakfast or lunch is usually served.

Some colleges will offer student activities or academic department fairs to allow families a chance to explore co-curricular and academic life on campus. Student and faculty panels may also be offered. Sometimes the athletic department and financial aid folks give presentations that day or they are on hand for families with specific questions.

Things to consider:
  • If you don’t like crowds, you may want to forgo the open house, and visit campus on a normal day instead. Most open houses attract hundreds, sometimes thousands, of guests. Because of the large crowds, everything is a bit oversized including tours, presentations, and meals. While there is staff on hand to answer questions the day of an open house, they won’t have as much time to devote to individual families.
  • Attending an open house is usually considered a touchpoint or “demonstrated interest” in the eyes of the college. Colleges keep track of who visits campus and who doesn’t. Most colleges will go one step further and factor in demonstrated interest in the evaluation process. This means that visiting campus for an open house or a traditional campus visit can only benefit a student.

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  • If you are considering small liberal arts colleges where interviews are highly encouraged, you most likely won’t have an opportunity to interview on the day of an open house. You will need to revisit campus on another day or the college might offer regional interviews in your hometown area in the fall of senior year.
  • Summer open houses are going to have more staff on hand than students (and faculty members). There won't be nearly as many students on campus during the summer. Even if summer courses are offered, only a small percentage of students will spend it on campus.

An open house should be viewed as an introduction to the college. It need not be the first or last time you visit a college. It provides an overview of the admissions process, academic/student life, and the campus.

Students who end up applying to the institution often return for a visit right before they apply or after they have been accepted. The open house is just a way to start a connection with a college that may ultimately turn into a home for four years of your life.