By Patrick Lorenzo
With spring break in session and admissions decisions out, families across the country are making travel arrangements to visit college campuses. Whether you are a rising junior/senior starting your college visit process or a senior determining where you want to enroll this fall, there are ways to make the most of your campus visit. Having witness this part of the admissions season for several years I have seen families design thoughtful schedules, ambitious agendas, and even a few head scratching itineraries.
There is no one size fits all solution, however, there are approaches I’ve observed that have worked year in and year out.There are many ways to create a sound visit philosophy. Here are four things you can do to produce a successful road map to visiting colleges:
1) Less is more – Depending on your calendar I would recommend only visiting one college a day. I advise only one because you can hone in and get a real feel of the institution. The typical visit entails an information session led by a counselor and a campus tour by a student worker/volunteer. You might even consider an interview or class.
If you think those two hours are adequate you are missing opportunities to delve deeper into the look and feel of a campus. I would recommend building time to eat in the dining hall, to wander around other parts of campus, to meet other departments on campus, to revisit something from the guided tour, and to explore the surrounding area. Easily, this adds another two hours to your visit, essentially a half day excursion.
This might seem reasonable for an admitted family, however, if you are a prospective family trying to plan as many as visits as possible in a day I ask that you take a step back and do some additional research to narrow it down. It’s tiring to storm through college visits without allowing yourself the opportunity to broaden your perspective of a campus.
2) Prepare thoughtful questions – For admitted families, this will likely focus on the topics of financial aid, housing, orientation, and the first year experience. Instead of saving these for the admissions office, set up appointments in advance or set aside time during your visit to see said departments. Since you are in decision making mode, it is best you speak directly to the departments. It’s likely the admissions office will encourage you to go to each department directly to get the most up to date and accurate information.
In regards to prospective families, think about specific questions that go beyond what the website or brochures (e.g. statistics, list of majors etc.) would offer. The more depth you seek, the better the question. When you are on tour be considerate of the tour guide. You can be personal without being invasive. For example, instead of asking what they don’t like phrase it as what they would like to change. It shows how thoughtful and well researched your preparations were for the school.
3) Build in play time – It is a trip, likely a family one, so please carve vacation activities into your day. This is another reason to only visit one school per day. If you want the trip to be both meaningful and memorable it is crucial to balance the visit with complimentary opportunities to understand the local culture, flavor, and economy of the campus.
If you prefer an urban setting figure out if you want to be in it surrounded by traffic lights/noise or to be within easy reach (e.g. accessible by public transportation, less than fifteen minutes away). In terms of culture, do museums, sporting events, and musical venues matter to you? I have also heard of families creating scavenger hunts, photo challenges, or do what the locals do in a day.
If you are social with your media, check out their hashtags to discover other interesting things about the institution or local area. You might surprise yourself on how telling these experiences will inform your college search/decision process.
4) Reflect then select – Presuming you considered my advice and coupled it with your desires then you are ready to take a step back from the campus visit. Yes, take some time to reflect on your venture and to recollect highlights, lowlights, dislikes, surprises, epiphanies, and a ha moments. Ideally, you undergo this exercise after every visit and then one more time after you’ve competed the trip.
Make it more interesting by having each family member/guest share their impressions too. The more perspectives you acquire, the better your snapshot of the institution. You will not be able to remember everything nor will you able to see everything.
Having all these notes/ideas handy will be crucial when it’s time sift your short list or to ultimately choose your campus. You want to make sure you’ve gone through both a thorough and comprehensive decision making process.
The campus visit is a significant investment of time and resources. If you’re going to make it worthwhile be mindful of your goals. Be open and focused. If it seems to be good to be true make note of it and look it up later. Ask more questions and dig a little deeper. If you hear/see something disappointing don’t be too quick to judge/dismiss the school. Log it and explore the topic.
Enough reading, plan your travel, and go see some colleges!
About the Author: #ThickEnvelope is a monthly column that can be read exclusively on AsAmNews. Patrick Gabriel Lorenzo is Associate Director of Admissions at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA and a graduate of both a University of California campus and a regional private college. He has nearly 15 years of experience in higher education spanning public and private institutions. He is a firm believer in access, against the notion of college acceptances being a prize to be won, and promotes the idea of searching colleges from the inside out. Patrick can be reached at [email protected] for further questions.)
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