With spring break ahead, many families are planning campus visits with their juniors and sophomores. Demonstrating your interest to a college by visiting the campus is a good thing, but not the most important reason for the visit. Rather, you are exploring a place where you may choose to spend four years of your life, and as such the visit is far more for your benefit than for the college’s sake!
With a bit of planning and forethought, you can make the most out of the experience:
- Do not fit too many campuses into a single trip or day. It makes for an exhausting time and after a few of these ‘drive-by visits,’ every campus will begin to look the same!
- While it is a lovely idea to jump in the car and make a spontaneous visit to a campus, organizing your trip can help you maximize the moment: downloads maps, locate admission offices and parking garages, confirm tour schedules and register for information sessions, sign up if informational interviews are offered, check out class schedules, and see whether there are student performances you wish to attend. Prior preparation makes for more productive visits!
- Prepare for the trip in other ways too. Don’t forget to learn about the college itself – its interesting history, unique programs, and residential arrangements, for example. This will allow you to identify what you don’t know and should learn during your visit.
- Take notes. This will help jog your memory later as you reflect on your visits, and come in handy when you are completing that college’s Supplement to the Common Application where you are asked to explain your interest.
- Get the name of the person responsible for applications from your city or country. Admission offices may not always advertise this information, but they will give it if you ask! Geographic assignments can change over the summer, but having an individual’s name is helpful later when you have questions or minor crises about the application, or you simply wish to send a short note of thanks or of introduction.
- Register at the admission office when you arrive. Some schools do indeed track ‘demonstrated interest,’ but even when they do not, being on a mailing list means that you will be invited to admission events offered in your city.
- Make your visit an academic experience. College is not primarily about fitness facilities and dining halls – trust me, your good time at college will probably not depend on the quality of these! Colleges are about libraries, laboratories and lectures, so check these out by attending a class or even by emailing a faculty member whose work interests you, to meet and learn about it.
- Listen to ‘official’ presentations with an enthusiastic but critical ear. These paint the most appealing picture, but there are other possibilities and you need to listen for them. I always suggested to my own children that they identify those words that are the stock in trade of every admissions person (passion, engagement, research, advising, community, etc.), and then differentiate them from those that are specific to one college (curriculum, residential colleges, cooperative experiences, etc.). These are what matters most.
- Listen to the questions and conversations of fellow visitors. You may learn concepts (retention rates, yield, academic standing) that you did not know to ask about yourself beforehand.
- Parents, listen with an open mind to your child’s opinions. Parents are driven wild by children who step foot onto a campus and instantly decide they hate the place. But your students may be responding to something significant even if they are not good about articulating their concerns or fears.
- Students, listen with an open mind to your parents’ opinions! I often sympathized with blushing teenagers when parents monopolized conversations, asked inappropriate questions and boasted about their exceptional child to scare off the competition! But consider the wise words of Mark Twain: “When I was 16 my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I was 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned.”
- Resist the temptation to hang onto each other like life rafts during your visit, and spend time apart. Going on separate tours, for example, will allow each side to develop its own perspective. There is much to be said for giving teenagers the chance to interact with prospective classmates, and for giving parents a moment of respite in the coffeehouse!
- Enjoy yourself. For many families, college visits will be one of the last times to explore together before separate lives and college obligations make family trips a thing of the past. Enjoy it while you can and begin to build your future relationship as equal adults.
- Bring quarters for parking meters and leave extra time to find a parking space. Of the many things colleges share, inadequate parking space may be the most common and aggravating!