Question: Should I stay overnight as part of my visits to candidate colleges?
That's a great idea. Believe it or not, some high-school seniors enroll at colleges whose grounds they've never seen. I think that's risky business.
We all have the ability to react to places we visit at the "gut" level. That's especially important when you go to visit your candidate schools. Before you go for a visit, you'll probably read about the schools in their standard marketing materials--viewbooks, course catalogs, and specialty publications.
These are a good way to see, through pictures and words, what the schools are like. But, as the song title says, there ain't nothin' like the real thing.
As far as overnight stays are concerned, most colleges and universities have hosting programs where a student (frequently a freshman or sophomore) is your host for a day and night. You take your sleeping bag and toothbrush and stay in your host's room overnight.
Overnight stays have a number of advantages over day visits. First of all, you'll get to experience dorm life for a night. Depending on the character of the school you're visiting, you might discover that nights are dead, or at least boring. On the other hand, you may find yourself in the middle of a long-term party, with all the usual wild behavior and loud noises. Most likely, though, it will probably be somewhere in between.
I'm not making any judgments about noisy or sleepy campuses. I'm just emphasizing the point that colleges and universities all have their own personalities. It's up to you to decide whether or not the school you're visiting "feels" good to you. Remember, you'll be spending the better part of four years of your life at college. That's a long time to be somewhere that bores you.
The overnight stay is one of the best ways I know to find out what a college is like. Take advantage of the opportunity to do so.
Visiting College Campuses (5th Edition) by Janet Spencer, Sandra Maleson, et al. Combines both general information on how to make the most of college visits as well as specific information on hundreds of the most frequently visited campuses. Check our review.