By PETER VAN BUSKIRK
As the school year winds down, thousands of families are gearing up to start the college search and selection process in earnest. For many, the process includes plans to visit college campuses. The questions that often arise, however, are “When is the best time to visit?” and “What should we expect to accomplish?”
The answers are fairly straightforward. Visit when you can and soak up as much information as possible! Ideally, you would visit colleges when classes are in session and the campuses are full of life. That may not always be possible, though, so go when you can. The best opportunities may be around business trips, holiday travels or vacations.
And if such opportunities should occur early in the college planning process, go “window shopping.” When you are “window shopping,” you are less interested in buying and more interested in checking out the inventory. Give yourself exposure to as many different kinds of places as you can—big schools, small schools, research universities, liberal arts colleges, urban campuses and places way out in the country.
Visiting colleges while there is no pressure to “buy” allows you to develop a broad perspective with regard to what is “out there.” When it is time to buy, then, you know what you like and you know where to find it. As you visit the campuses, allow your senses to guide you. Ultimately, it will be a “sixth sense”—the proverbial “gut feeling” that will lead you to the places that suit you best.
So, pack up your “sixth sense” and get ready to enjoy the adventure found in “window shopping” college campuses. The following are tips that will help you get the most out of your campus visits—wherever you go!
1. Take advantage of everything the school has to offer. If an interview is offered, take it! Take a tour. Visit an academic department or program area in which you have an interest. Ask thoughtful questions that reflect your interest.
2. Plan ahead. If possible, schedule your visit at least two weeks in advance. At some colleges, you may need to call two months in advance for an interview appointment. This will be especially true over the summer and around holidays.
3. Prepare well. Read the information you have about the school. Look for the potential synergy between your interests, perspectives and learning style—and the offerings of the school. While on campus, you will want to test your initial impressions. Know why you are there. See how you fit.
4. Arrive early. Avoid feeling rushed. Give yourself time to stretch and walk around before you make an official introduction. Find a snack bar or some place where you can comfortably take in campus life. How do folks relate to each other? How do they relate to you?
5. Get more than one opinion. Much of that which is offered formally by a college is staged for your benefit. It should look and sound good. It’s part of the sales pitch.
If you can, go “backstage” to learn more. Visit the “neighborhoods” of the campus that you are likely to frequent should you choose to enroll there. Introduce yourself to students and ask questions like: “What do you like most about your experience?” “How would you describe the academic environment?” “How is this college helping you to achieve your goals?” “If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?” Listen to their stories. How do you see yourself fitting into the picture they “paint” of life on that campus?
6. Record your visit. Make notes as soon as you are able. The more colleges you see, the more they will become a blur in your mind. Take pictures. Buy postcards. Give yourself a visual index of what you have seen to avoid confusion later.
7. Build relationships. Your campus visit gives you a chance to establish relationships with individuals such as interviewers and information session presenters who might be decision-makers when your application is considered. Collect business cards. Be sure to stay in touch with them in appropriate ways as you continue exploring your interest.
8. Connect with the recruiter. Institutions typically assign their admission personnel to different areas of the country for recruiting purposes. Find out who from the institution recruits in your area and check to see if that person is available. If so, introduce yourself. If not, ask for that person’s business card. Regardless, consider him/her as your “go to” person when you have important questions later in the college selection process.
9. Absorb it. Resist the impulse to come to immediate judgment, one way or the other, on a campus visit experience. Sleep on it. Process what you have learned. Weigh your impressions against those you have of other schools. Your first reaction is bound to be emotional. In the end, you need to remain as objective as possible.
10. Focus on fit. How does the college you are visiting meet your academic needs? Will you be challenged appropriately? Is the style of instruction a good match for the manner in which you are most comfortable learning? Does the college offer a sense of community that makes you feel “at home?” And where do you see evidence that you will be valued for what you have to offer. (For more discussion of a good college “fit,” check out Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students in the Best College Fit Bookstore.)
Do you have questions about getting into U.S. colleges and universities? Send them to Peter Van Buskirk at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Peter Van Buskirk, former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College, is author of “Winning the College Admission Game” and “Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook.” For more tips on the college admission process, visit his website: www.bestcollegefit.com.)