Summer break is prime time for scheduling visits to the colleges that are on the short list for prospective applicants. While some students have a very good sense of what they are looking for in a four year university, many others are just at the beginning stages of their exploration. Here are some tips from college admissions professionals to make college visits as informative and productive as possible:
Do Your Homework.
You don’t want to waste the small amount of time you’ll have at each institution by asking questions like “Do you have my major?” Spend time before your visit combing through the college’s website to answer those and many other questions. A visit is the time to ask the questions that you can’t find online, and to get a “feel” for the campus, the surrounding community, and campus life.
Questions that you might not find on the college’s website but which can be important include: What does the Career Services Office offer? What percentage of the graduating class finds work in its field? How much do graduates typically owe? Can students interact with the professors outside of class, and how? What are the research and internship opportunities available within your major and how can they be accessed? What percentage of the students leave campus on the weekend? What percentage of the freshman do not get the classes they request? What kind of advising is available to freshman - are there any specific services available to freshman in their first year? How easy is it to change your major once admitted, between departments and/or between colleges? Are there additional fees for lab materials? How about tutoring?
Take The Tour ... And The Detour.
Taking the official tour with these and other questions in hand is a good idea: you’ll see what the campus thinksare its best attributes and have a captive body to whom you can address your questions. If it is possible, ask for a guide whose major is one that you are considering. Many campus tour guides say that their biggest frustration is that most students never ask a single question, or jot information down, even though they are touring their prospective four (or more) year home. In addition to some of the questions outlined earlier, ask the guide two important questions: Why did YOU decide to go here? And, what did you do last weekend? Both are more likely to elicit an unscripted answers.
Many colleges also offer the opportunity to sit in on a lecture or class, or even spend the night in a dorm; plan on doing so if you can fit it into your schedule. Taking the official tour and participating in these “extra” opportunities is the most important sign that an applicant is seriously interested, and there are times when that expression of interest can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
While the official tour is valuable, it’s just as valuable to take a detour to see where students live off-campus, and what kinds of services are available when it comes to entertainment, shopping, laundry, transportation and the like. Most campuses feature a variety of activities to enrich campus life for students, but surrounding communities can differ in the extreme. Make time in your schedule to nose around and see what it would really be like to live there.
College Board’s Big Future has some good tools and articles available on its website.
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