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A Student’s Brief Guide to Visiting Colleges

Planning your college visits over Spring Break can be harrowing (and if someone is doing it for you, be infinitely thankful to that person!). There are so many logistical details to cover that it’s a relief when the itinerary is finally worked out without breaking the bank or spending countless hours driving through nowhere.

Visit Goals. Many students stop planning once their itinerary has been created. However, as a Junior in high school (or a Sophomore if you’re getting a big head start) your work is not done. Unlike the Senior visit where you’ve already been admitted and you’re just deciding what you want to do, the visits before you apply have dual purposes.

  1. Evaluate the school to decide if you want to apply.
  2. Make sure the school knows that you’re interested in attending.

That first goal breaks down into a couple of subgoals:

  1. Come up with concrete, specific reasons for why you like or do not like the school so you can use those criteria to consider or eliminate other schools that share those traits.
  2. Evaluate the type of school you’re visiting and consider that trait independently. Things like urban vs. rural, public vs. private, significance of Greek life, size (both in number of students and campus), religious affiliation, and/or weather. So if you visit a private, urban, medium-sized, campus in the winter, evaluate independently what you think of each of those factors and decide if you’d like to find other schools that share that trait.

The second one is interesting because schools will consider your interest in their school in evaluating your application. If they admit you, they want to know whether or not you will attend. In order to gauge that, they evaluate what they call “Demonstrated Interest”. Given your actions and what you write in your essays, do they believe that you are genuinely interested in matriculating, or is that school just an afterthought for you?  The most obvious way to demonstrate your interests is to apply Early Decision, which requires you to commit to enrolling if you are admitted. But short of that, when you visit the school, do your best to establish a relationship so they know of your interest.

Therefore, always sign up for the Admissions Office Information Sessions and the Guided School Tour. That gets your name into their records and let’s them know you are interested enough to visit. The caveat here is that many schools don’t offer Info Sessions and/or Tours on weekends so you have to manage the logistics of your trip accordingly. By establishing this relationship you’re stepping up to the next level. For schools where you are genuinely interested in applying, it’s worth the effort to at least meet the admissions officer responsible for your region of the country(google them before and send them a little note mentioning you will be visiting and how it would be great to meet them). It is often the case that this same person will visit your high school(if they do visit), and also this person will often be among the first readers of your application.

A Simple Checklist

To help you accomplish all of this, here is a checklist for your College Tour:Pre-Visit (several weeks in advance of your planned trip):

  1. Do enough research to answer, “why do you want to go to school here?”
  2. Search online to see if you can find your regional Admissions Officer, and reach out!
  3. Sign up for the info session and tour early (the toughest part of the logistics in planning these trips).
  4. Find a current student to meet with at the college. One way to do that is to find out from your high school college counselor if there are any alumni that you could contact to have a non-official chat about the school while you’re there. If so, reach out and set something up, these can be invaluable!

During your visit:

  1. If you haven’t already, find out who the admissions officer for your area is at and ask to say hello. Introduce yourself and follow his or her lead on how long you can talk. Get the officer’s business card and ask if you can keep in touch. Be prepared to say why you want to go to school there and then be honest about being in the early part of your search. If the school is one of your top choices, make sure you say so.
  2. Ask genuine questions if you have them during the info session, but don’t go “over the top” with trying impress anyone during that session.
  3. Ask the student tour leader about the good and the bad about the campus (a polite way to ask for bad is, what would you like to see change? Or, what would you do differently if you got to start over?)

Post-Visit: Have a way of recording your impressions immediately. It sounds easy, but after a few schools they will often blur together. This will be especially true if you’re on the two-colleges-a-day-every-day-for-a-week schedule.

  1. Take several pictures (a selfie with the tour guide can help you remember your experience).
  2. Take pictures whenever there are moments that give you insight, the image will help your recall.
  3. Record your notes as soon as you get off-campus, don’t wait until that night! The easiest thing to do is to record your impressions on your phone. Have a short, recorded conversation in the car as you drive away with whoever is with you.

Have a great trip!