Tips on Visiting Colleges

college_visitI am currently accompanying my daughter Maia, a rising senior, on a tour of colleges and universities on the East Coast. We are finding that these college visits are essential to helping her get a sense of what she likes, and doesn’t like, in a college environment, and to knowing more clearly about the programs that interest her! Here are some tips on visiting colleges that Maia (in italics) and I would like to share, based on our experience.

✜ Be sure to reserve a spot for the information session and campus tour at each institution you visit. These can fill up! Also, if you register in advance, the college will often mail or email you a parking pass, map, and other pertinent instructions.

Sometimes the times or days won’t line up exactly as you planned. You might have to reschedule some info sessions, move a college to a difference day, etc. Try to be as flexible as you can.

✜ If the college or university conducts interviews of rising seniors, take advantage of this opportunity and schedule an interview, and be sure to prepare for it. By this I mean write down questions you (the student) have for the interviewer about the college. You cannot know what the interviewer will ask you (but relax, they are always friendly!), but you can show interest and knowledge about the college/university by being ready to ask questions of the interviewer. Be sure to do your research: ask questions about specific programs/ features of that particular college (this shows you have done research) and avoid asking questions that could easily be answered by a visit to the school’s website (this shows that you have NOT done research).

Generally the conversation flows pretty freely and it’s easy to make questions from what you and your interviewer are talking about. That being said, I agree that it’s good to have a couple of questions prepared for the inevitable “so, do you have any questions for me?” I tended to check out the Wikipedia page for the college because it listed the special programs and unique qualities of the school in a more obvious fashion than the website did. Also, check out the specific academic programs that you’re interested in and see what special requirements they have or what resources they have. I found that the majority of my interviews were conducted by seniors at the college, rather than by admissions officers. This definitely put my mind at ease because I found that these interviews were less nerve-wracking from the get-go. The few that were with admissions officers were also fine, especially once I had gotten my sea legs with interviewing (in fact, my favorite interview was with an admissions officer). Interviews aren’t as scary as they seem, I promise. Be prepared to get questions that you weren’t expecting that make you think on the spot. Relax; they know that you can’t whip the answer out right away, so it’s okay to take time to think about it. Just be yourself, smile, and be alert!

✜ Collect the business card of the person who conducted your interview. In a couple of days, send that person a thank you postcard and be sure to email them any additional questions you think of after leaving the school.

I sent postcards from Hawaii (where I live) and would try to include a tidbit from our interview in hopes that they would remember who I was. For example, in one of my interviews we talked about going to Mars, so I included a little something about that at the end of my postcard. Make them personal so they remember you!

✜ Be sure to ask who in the Admissions Office will be reviewing applications from your geographic region. Ask to see that person, if possible, and introduce yourself briefly and get his/her business card. Follow up later with a brief thank you email, noting how interested you are in the school. Then, as questions arise when you are writing your application, email that person directly.

They aren’t scary either! I ended up emailing one admissions officer a recipe for a great pasta dish. Also, don’t feel bad about not wanting to email the admissions officer from a school you weren’t fond of. The point of the tour is to narrow down your list and pick out your favorites, not give yourself unnecessary emails to write.

✜ By the end of your college tour, you will have quite a collection of business cards that represent valuable personal connections that you will want to maintain. Be sure you jot notes on each card to help you remember who each person is (i.e., interviewer, Admissions dean, person reviewing your region’s applications, etc.).

My mom thought I was crazy at first, but in the future you will thank yourself for doing it.

✜ Plan to arrive early for your info session/interview. You never know what unexpected circumstances – traffic, getting lost, finding parking – could delay your arrival. Also, don’t forget quarters for parking meters and an umbrella! We have visited several colleges in the pouring rain, and not all colleges provide umbrellas.

Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, too. My poor shoes were wet for days after visiting William and Mary in the pouring rain.

✜ As soon as possible after each visit (and preferably on the same day as the visit!), write down your pros and cons for that institution, noting interesting programs/features. I recommend you write these notes in Word, then cut and paste them into CollegePlannerPro to share them with your College Goals’ counselor. (For information on how to use CPP, see “Instructions for Using CPP,” a document provided to you by your counselor.)

If you’re visiting two colleges in one day, try to write this down between each college. Especially if the two colleges that you’re visiting are similar, they’ll tend to blend together and the programs get all switched up.

✜ I heartily encourage all of you to plan a tour of colleges on your list – whether this summer, during a school holiday, or when colleges are in session – but preferably before the colleges make their admission decisions. It really does make a difference to see the colleges/ universities “in person”, and it will definitely help any student to create a more specifically appealing application!

Do it! It really helps you get a feel of the colleges that are right for you and figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a college. We visited a college that had been one of my favorites on paper and I ended up not liking it. Before we started seeing colleges, I was worried that I wouldn’t know which one felt the best. If you’re like me, don’t worry about it. You really will know when it happens.