College visits are a huge opportunity. They can be daunting to plan and expensive to go on, but whenever possible, savvy applicants will take advantage of them. There is so much more than the official (read boring) information session and campus tour that will help you, first, evaluate if a college is a good fit for you and second, maximize your probability of admission to your top choices. Here are our top 5 tips:
Attend the Official Information Session and Campus Tour
I may be a little cynical about the official “advertisements” (you will be too after about your 4th visit), but do not skip these. In addition to learning a few interesting tidbits that you may not have read on the website, it is part of building a relationship with the college. Even more important, find out if the college has any special events or tours for students interested in particular academic programs or departments. These can be quite helpful and may only be available on specific days.
Sit In on a Class
Many colleges have a list of approved courses for prospective students to sit in on. Choose one in your intended major and schedule your class visit in advance. In addition to arriving early to introduce yourself to the professor, try to schedule a brief conference during his or her office hours. You may also try to get an appointment with a department chairperson to learn as much as possible about the major, internship and research opportunities, and what graduates do / where they go after earning their degree. Don’t be discouraged if these people tell you they have nothing to do with admissions. You are continuing to build your relationship with the college.
Schedule an On-Campus Interview
While few colleges require an on campus interview, find out if and when they are offered. Even if it is “optional” or what they might refer to as “informational” rather than “evaluative”, you should take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with an admissions representative. This is a great opportunity to show you have done your homework researching the college, reflected on what you like about it compared to other colleges, and how see yourself contributing to campus life. A great interview will not get you in, but it can add another dimension to your application. The best interviews are conversational, most admission representatives are young and very nice, but you should still be well prepared. That relationship is getting stronger and more personal.
If the college has an overnight stay program, it is usually worth the time and effort. The official tour may or may not have showed you a real dorm room, and actually staying in one will give you a chance to meet and talk to students who do not work for the admissions office. The students that lead tours are trained to answer questions in a way that makes the college look good, but others are usually much more candid. Additionally, spending a full day on campus will give you the opportunity, to eat in the cafeteria, stroll around on your own and check out a club or activity that you might like to join in college. And finally, who knows, you might even get a chance to go to a……college “get together.” That college is practically a new friend now.
Document Your Visit and Follow Up
While you are on campus, be sure to take photos and good notes. Weeks or months later after visiting several other colleges, your memory will not be as sharp. Try to record not only what you do and who you talked to, but also your thoughts and feelings about spending the next four years on the campus. When it comes to making a final decision, it is not unreasonable for feelings and emotion to play a role. Photos and journal style notes will help you think through multiple visits.
After doing as many of these activities as possible, nurture the friendship with the college by keeping the conversation going. This means collecting the names and e-mail addresses of those you met on campus. The admission representatives that made the presentation at the information session, the students who gave the guided tour, the professor whose class you sat in on, the representative that interviewed you and the student who let you crash in their dorm deserve a thoughtful thank you note. And don’t forget to ask if its ok to contact them in the future with further questions.
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