Juniors: Now is the time to start visiting colleges! If you plan ahead, you'll avoid being overwhelmed later by fuzzy memories of campus centers, dorm rooms and lecture halls. Here are some tips:

Consider the first few visits as "discovery visits" and stay open-minded. Visit colleges that you've always dreamt of attending, but also select all types of institutions - large/small, urban/rural, public/private, single sex/coed. You may be surprised. It happens more often than you think: Those who have their hearts set on attending a big-city school, for example, suddenly discover the benefits of rural liberal arts colleges. Be proactive. The "visit campus" links on the admission websites have all the tools you need, including schedules of campus tours, information sessions, directions and lodging information. Contact the admissions office. Tell them you are coming. Make an appointment for a campus tour, information session, and optionally, an admission interview. Information sessions are generally given by admissions officers and the tours by students. If you have time and you like the school, I recommend doing both. Plan to spend a minimum of two hours on each campus. Arrange for an overnight stay. Colleges organize student volunteers to show you what life is really like in the dorms and classes. Pay attention to your special interests. Whether you're most interested in advanced neuroscience research, athletics, political clubs, music, or drama, you'll find it worthwhile to meet with representatives of these programs. Faculty and coaches welcome visitors if the appointments are made in advance. Don't hesitate to ask any question. The student tour leader or admission professional recognizes that all of your concerns are important. Also, talk to other students and faculty on campus. People's views vary widely, so ask the same question to several people. Don't rely on your memory alone. Take notes and bring a camera or video recorder. These will serve you well when your memory blurs on the plane ride home. Get help if you need it. If the thought of organizing itineraries and driving for miles and miles leaves you anxious, you may want to consider a pre-arranged college tour. Offered by many agencies and independent education consultants, a scheduled tour will provide you with a personalized itinerary, access to the admissions offices, and expert advice on the college admission and financial aid process while you travel.

Virtual tours
Want to narrow down the playing field? Can't make it in person? Take a virtual tour of campuses across the country online at YOUniversityTV's website (www.youniversitytv.com). The site features 400 exclusive video tours of the top colleges in the United States. Each college tour showcases campus life, school history, admissions information, sports, Greek life, local surroundings and scenery.