How to prepare for your visit?
Timing: On the college’s website, search for and check the school’s calendar. Many schools will have set dates on which you have to sign up for a visit and tour; even those that do not, however, may have days when they have no student-led tours available because of class schedules and school vacations. You should also consider whether or not you want to visit during the term when students are on campus, or in the summer when campus may be quiet. When you have decided on a date to visit, sign up for whatever the college offers. At some schools it may include a tour and an information session, and at others you may also sign up online or by phone for an on-campus interview. If interviews are available, CALL the Admission Office or sign up online. At colleges where none are offered or available, phone and ask if you can meet briefly with the Admission Officer who will be handling the applications from your part of the country/world. Emphasize that you only want to introduce yourself – admission officers may not have time for lengthy unscheduled chats, and if they think this is what you want, they are more likely to say no to a meeting! Regardless, remember to get names and contact information.
Accommodation: On most colleges’ admission websites, under the link for Visitors you may find information regarding ‘Places to Stay’ near the campus. If there is no information on the website, call the Admission Office for useful information about local accommodations. Try to stay overnight as close to campus as possible, so you can visit the campus in the evening and possibly attend an event there – concert, lecture, or sports event. Make reservations in advance!
Directions: On the same website for Visitors, you will find driving directions, and often a map. PRINT THESE OUT to bring along, but also try and rent a car with a Global Positioning System (GPS) – you will be SO glad you did! Make note of parking areas on campus and take along a supply of quarter coins in case you have to park on a public street. If you are concerned about getting around on your college trip, there are services available that will for a fee arrange your itinerary.
What to do when you visit?
Arrival: Arrive on campus in good time to find parking and have time to walk to the appropriate location – parking is almost always a problem! Make your way to the locations for all appointments – Information Sessions, Campus Tours and Interviews – 15 minutes ahead of time, in order to sign in, greet the presenter and catch your breath so that you can be focused when the presentation starts but perhaps have a few minutes to chat with others around you too. Be sure to pick up the business card of the Admission Officer who will be handling applications from your region of the world or country, and also of the presenter, so you can thank him/her as a matter of courtesy but also as a way of expressing your interest. If you cannot get a card, then definitely make note of the name so that you can find an email address in the college’s directory. You may also want to get a supply of postcards from your own town or region and use these instead of emails – it may help you register a bit more strongly as an individual. If registration is available, please make sure you sign in. Many colleges track “demonstrated interest,” and the fact that you visited campus will be strong evidence of your interest.
Interview: If you do an on-campus interview, it will be conducted by either an Admission Officer or by a well-trained senior student. The interview will be either informational or evaluative, and they are usually offered only to seniors and rising seniors. For more information about the interview process, have a look at the College Goals article on Interviewing.
Admission session: During most college visits, the Information Session will be the centerpiece of the visit. These are presented by Admission Officers or, sometimes by well-prepared undergraduate students. Attending information sessions will do three things for you:
- It will answer questions about the college, financial aid and the application process.
- By listening critically, you will also begin to see what sets one institution apart from another. Many of the words and ideas that Admission Officers use – such as “engagement” and “passion” – are the stock in trade of the admission profession and, while important, have also become platitudes and clichés. Listening beyond these repetitive phrases will not only give you new insight but also good material for when you write the often-required essay on “Why I am applying to your school.”
- Listening to the questions of other students and parents will also teach you the “language” of admissions and give you some new food for thought.
Some questions to which you may want to get answers from an Admission Officer:
- What is the acceptance rate for Early Applications as opposed to the total for the season?
- What percentage of 1st year students return (retention rate)? Graduate in four to six years?
- What percentage of students goes on to graduate school? Professional schools?
- When must you declare your major? Can you design your own? How easy is it to switch between different majors? How much of a student’s curriculum will be filled with general education requirements (GERs – required courses outside your major)?
- Who serves as a student’s advisor? Do advisors change each year? How many students to an advisor?
- Can students take classes at other nearby colleges/universities (if applicable)?
- What are the living options on campus? Guaranteed housing for how long? What kind of off-campus housing is available?
- Is study abroad encouraged? Are students required to continue to pay the full tuition of the college, or can they pay the (often lower) rate of the overseas program?
- What was the average tuition increase during the past five years?
- What does the Financial Aid office do with outside scholarships – do these reduce the student’s self-help portion, or is the funding used to reduce the college’s assistance?
You may talk briefly with the Admission Officer after her/his talk, but be sure to leave in time for the Campus Tour.
Campus Tour: You should also have the opportunity to take a guided Campus Tour which will be led by a very engaging and informative undergraduate who has the amazing ability to walk backward without bumping into trees or people while talking non-stop about the college, the campus and his or her experiences there . . . while also hailing and answering close buddies who seem to be strategically scattered around the campus. For many students, this is simply the most fun and informative part of the visit. These are students who love their school and they are happy to talk about the place and give you a student perspective. Remember to get their names too so that you can later send a thank you card if you wish, but also email them with follow-up questions.
Some of the questions you may want to ask when invited to do so on the tour:
- What do you like most about your college? What do you like least?
- What do you wish you had known when you were making your college choice?
- How would most students here describe a typical student?
- What are the classes like? Size? Mostly large lectures? Small classes? Discussion groups?
- Do graduate students or faculty teach introductory classes? Upper-level courses?
- Is it hard/easy to get into the classes you want to take? Have you ever been locked out of a class, and how did you resolve it?
- How is the academic advising program for pre-majors? For majors?
- Do you speak up and interact with students and faculty in your classes?
- In the last semester, how often have you met with a professor outside of class?
- Where do students study? Or hang out on campus? Off-campus? On weekends?
- How important are fraternities and sororities? Or sports?
The college visits can be tiring, but try to keep them fun and exciting too. For many, this may be the last protracted time to spend with your child before s/he leaves for college. Enjoy it! Don’t nag about procrastination, but rather motivate your children with their excitement in the possibilities before them; don’t put a damper on their dreams, but listen and learn about their aspirations for life; don’t argue about their seemingly ridiculous criticism of the college you just visited, but accept that their comments may in fact be a screen for another set of unspoken concerns and anxieties. Above all, enjoy their company and take pride in the fact that this is your reward for those Sunday nights gluing together a school project, the endless cupcakes you made for class events, the early mornings next to the ice rink, and the weekends spent alongside the soccer field!
Have a WONDERFUL time visiting some outstanding educational institution, and carry that excitement with you into the application season!