Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Making the Most of College Visits

The Guidance Department encourages all juniors to visit at least one college during the upcoming April vacation.  Spring vacation week is an ideal time to visit because, unlike visiting on weekends or over the summer, classes are in session and there's a higher student population on campus.  In short, you get to see your college campus in action.

Visiting colleges is an essential part of the college search and application process.  An official campus tour provides prospective students with the opportunity to get a first-hand feel for the campus, its population, surroundings, housing, athletics, special programs and even dining options.  If you can't visit the campus of every school in which you're interested, some visits serve as "representative" tours. For example, touring Suffolk University will give you a strong sense of what it's like to go to school in Boston. If you find that you don't like the hustle and bustle of an urban setting, however, perhaps you can rule out other schools in cities and instead, focus on more suburban or rural schools. By contrast, if you visit a representative campus in a more pastoral setting but find that you'd like to be closer to a city with more going on, you can narrow your search in the opposite direction.  Ultimately, for any college you choose to apply to or attend, it helps to "try before you buy."

An added bonus of touring a campus and attending an information session is that by showing up and making your curiosity about the campus known to the admissions office, you are "demonstrating interest" in the college. Demonstrated interest is the tracking of your contact with each college, and some colleges actually use it as additional information about candidates during the admissions process.

Besides asking questions of your tour guide and of the admissions staff, it can often be helpful to ask other random students on campus what their opinions are, too.  Getting a complete picture of any campus allows you to make the  most informed decision you can.

What to ask your tour guide and other students on campus:
General questions about the facilities, classes, dorms, professors, activities and sports.
What is your favorite thing about this college?
What is your least favorite thing about this college?
What was your freshman year like?
What can you tell me about your major/field of study?
How safe do you feel here?
What do you think of the food?
What advice do you have regarding the application process?
What can you tell me about student services, such as the infirmary, counseling center or academic advising?

Topics to ask about during Information Session:
Specific questions about admissions:  interviews, the essay, letters of recommendation etc.
Courses to take in high school and what level(s). In admissions, this is referred to as "rigor."
Standardized testing: SATs/ACTs/SAT Subject tests/TOEFL/AP exams
Tuition and scholarships.
Housing, academics, performing arts, sports, etc.

Remember, no question is too small or insignificant to ask!  If you want to know about vegetarian dining options, how much "partying" there is on campus, how clean the bathrooms are, or whether the professors really teach their classes, ASK!  Questions such as these are reflective of what your quality of life will be on campus every day that you are there.  Often, the littlest things make the biggest difference, so don't downplay questions that address your future needs and wants.

To make an appointment for a tour, you must check each college's website for dates and the proper procedure for signing up. Some colleges want you to sign up online, some prefer that you call, and others offer so many tours that you can drop in to any scheduled tour.  When navigating each college site, look for such key terms as:  prospective/future students or freshmen, admissions, undergraduate and "visit."  Some colleges use the word "tour" to refer to virtual tours.

Be sure to take notes during your campus visit and, after clearing it with your guide, take pictures to help you remember what you saw.  Taking photos can especially helpful when visiting more than one college in a day. (Tip: as you enter a building, room or other facility, take a picture of the sign with the building or room's name on it. This will save you having to take notes or label your photos.) See example of the Shanahan Tutoring Center for athletes at Northeastern below:

Have a wonderful vacation and happy touring!

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