With more and more students applying to more and more colleges, and with colleges being concerned about their yields, you can understand why colleges are looking to (1) distinguish students from each other; and (2) determine if students actually want to go to their schools. One of the ways that they are addressing both goals is through visits.
Official visits are usually done through the admissions office. And some schools plan an entire day including visits to the prospective departments. Just a quick tip: with thousands of students, don’t assume that the people and precise interactions that you are seeing are the precise ones that you will interact with. While NYU gave tons of tours per day, I can recall actually seeing a handful. The purpose of your visit is to introduce you to the school and the school to you.
But it isn’t easy to visit schools, especially if they are far. In those instances, email! Email the admissions office to introduce yourself and ask questions that you would have asked on the tours. In addition to cross-referencing lists of visitors, they also look at email lists.
Want to learn more about visits and asking the right questions? Come to my workshop on May 28th! And don’t wait; late registration starts on Monday.