This week is Spring break for many high school students, and thus a GREAT time to start your campus visits (if you're a junior) or take advantage of those admitted student open houses (if you're a senior who is trying to decide where to go next year.) Although the two types of visits might differ in some respects, the end goal remains the same. You need to answer the question: "Is this college the right place for me to spend the next four years?"
1.On any campus visit, your first stop needs to be the admissions office. Check in with the person at the front desk, and if it is your first visit, fill out an information card. You need to do this even if you have no intention of even applying to this particular school, because you never know, and a campus visit earns you huge bonus points in terms of demonstrated interest!
2. Sit in on an information session and take the tour. Sounds like a no brainer, but you can learn a lot about a school just by observing the time and attention they give to their visitors and to their presentation. Are they just going through the motions? Do they take the time to ask you about where you're from and what you're interested in? Are the student tour guides lively and engaged or just reciting a memorized script?
3. Pick up a student newspaper. They should be all around campus. The student paper will give you a heads up as to what is important to the students on campus. Interested in journalism? Check out how often the paper is published. Colleges with active journalism or communications departments might have a daily publication, while other schools may only put out the paper weekly, or even monthly.
4. Grab a bite to eat on campus, and listen to what students are talking about all around you. Are they speaking with each other? Are they working in study groups? Is everyone on their phone and isolating themselves in a little bubble? The cafeteria is a clue as to the atmosphere of the campus. Make sure you can picture yourself eating your meals there.
5. Speak with students! Most students are happy to chat with you. Have a few questions ready about clubs or majors or even what they do on a given Saturday evening. They tend to me much more honest than your tour guides.
6. Request a departmental tour (ahead of time) or see if you can speak with a professor. This is only appropriate if you have a specific interest in a department or major. Don't waste peoples' time with questions like "do you have study abroad".....but if you really want to find out about astrophysics, go for it. Same thing goes for athletics. Plan ahead, make arrangements, and then enjoy your tour of the facilities.
7. Interview! If a school requires or even offers on campus interviews (usually just for seniors)...HAVE ONE. These are typically "informational" only, meaning that they won't help or hurt you in the admissions process, but it never hurts to make a great impression. Have your resume with you so you have something to talk about, and prepare some thoughtful questions. More about interviews in another blog post.
8. Take Notes! I will attach a copy of the campus visit sheet I like my clients to use when they tour campuses. I use it myself. It helps keep things organized because believe me, once you visit four or five schools, they are all going to start to blend together in your mind.
9. Take time to relax. Don't schedule more than two visits in a day. Take time to see the town/city, sample a local restaurant, and just hang and get a feel for the place. Do some exploring!
10. Most important...this is the STUDENT'S visit. Parents should stay back and stay quiet. I know it will drive you crazy that your child is not asking all the questions you think he or she should be asking; but when you monopolize the tour or info session, your child is dying inside. So don't. I know this first hand from touring colleges with my own children. I should have photographed the looks they gave me as I asked about the party atmosphere on campus.
If you have questions about financial aid or housing, make an appointment with a financial aid officer or someone in the admissions office. The tour guide won't have accurate answers about financial aid or merit scholarships anyway. Your son or daughter thanks you!