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Tips on Visiting Colleges

I 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 about college visits 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.

Dreams deferred, Part II: some comments on being deferred in the early application season

By Andrea van Niekerk

PART II: What are student to do when deferred?

I spoke previously about the reasons why selective schools may choose to defer a large percentage – in many cases even a majority – of their early applicants.  But the question remained as to what this meant for deferred students who find themselves ecstatic to have the door still slightly ajar at their dream school, but also suspect that they may have to move on to Plan B after all?

Students are right to feel both emotions, because being deferred indeed means that you can still be accepted.  If you are denied early, it is the end of the road at that college.  If you are deferred, however, it means that someone will still have a second look at you in regular decision.  That means that at the very least, the committee thought it best to wait and re-read your application within the larger regular pool.

Schools vary quite a bit in the percentage of deferred students they will accept – for some schools the acceptance rate may be more or less the same as it would be for other students who applied regular decision, and for others, the acceptance rate may be markedly lower.  You should certainly ask schools about this, but don’t be too surprised if the answers are vague!  And don’t be too hard on the admission officers seemingly doing the spin – they are bombarded with hopeful parents and students who want to parse statistics in order to fix their own chances of admission, when such clarity is virtually impossible.

Meanwhile, you should respond to your deferment with both of these possible outcomes in mind.  If you are still wildly keen for the school in spite of their slightly lukewarm response, then tell the admission officer just that.  Some schools may offer you a form on which to state this, but even if the school does not, write the admission officer a letter telling him or her that in spite of your disappointment, all the reasons why you applied early to that institution – the good fit, the great programs – remain valid.  At the very least, you will momentarily reappear on that reader’s radar screen as he or she reads your letter.

You do not, however, want to sit on the radar screen like an annoying mosquito on a wall.  Irking the reader is the last thing you need, and since they just worked through the Christmas break while New Year saw them hunched over files, that is easy to do!  Don’t assume that they made the decision to defer you because they missed some piece of information, and therefore blast them with a repetition of stuff that is already in your file.  They read all of that the first time round! Do not run out to bother your senator, a local alumnus you met in a coffeehouse once, or a professor with whom you had a single email exchange, to write you letters of support.  Unless they can add useful new information that will be meaningful (and none of those examples will fall in this category!), you are wasting your energy.  The only thing the admission officer will be interested in will be new, relevant information (you just won some important academic prize or are newly elected to a significant position, for example) and a short and concise statement of your continued interest.  If you have raved for several pages about your burning desire to attend, the reader will have filed the note long ago and moved on.

Having sent off the note or the email, redirect your energy towards Plan B.  You may, at the end of the day, not get into your dream school, so make sure the rest of your applications are strong.  Be sure to apply only to schools that you would be very happy to attend – after all, you may even end up at your safety school, so make sure it is one where you will thrive.  By doing so, you will ensure that a few months after arriving at the school that did return your affections and accepted you, you will hardly remember having felt such a passion for that other place.  That post-deferment rejection will remain at most a slight rankle in the back of your mind.