'Tis the season to college visit and prepare for a long treacherous journey that will last until college applications are due. It's scary and exhausting. Around springtime, it is imperative that students, mostly juniors, get started with their college visits. Not only is visiting a good way to learn more about a school, but it gives you a vibe and personality that you can't get off a website. If you want to get the full experience when visiting, here are some essential things you should consider.
Before you go anywhere, do your research. It's boring, I know, but look up your college of interest and get a feel for what kind of students they are looking for. A great website to use is colleges.niche.com. Here you can learn about everything relating to your college. Students write and leave personalized comments, so you get firsthand information on what the college is like, how the professors are, how safe the campus is, etc. Not only that, but there is a section for things like food, housing, scholarships, guys & girls, athletics, health & safety, weather and parking. My personal favorite section is "best and worst" where they list the top best things about the college (from what students have said), and worst things. The website has all the statistics concerning admissions and financial aid as well.
The reason why research is so important is because of the questions you may have. When I go on Niche, I look at the "worst" part of each college and write the list down, because it usually leads to some pretty important questions that can be asked later. Also, write down anything you can think of that may interest you. Some good questions to ask tour guides and students are:
- "Why did you choose this college?"
- "Is there a chemical free option for dorming?"*
- "What are the people like?"**
- "What are the food options like?"
- "How personal do you get with your professors?"
- "How strong is greek life?"
- "What do students typically do on their free time?"
- "Are the classes lecture style or discussion oriented?"
- "What is your favorite part of this college?"
Make sure you register or sign up for the college visit by going on the college's website. Most colleges keep track of who visits which can be a huge benefit for admissions. Then the college will usually email back with parking details and times for the tour. I would highly recommend signing up for both the information session and the tour. The info session talks about the college experience in general and what to expect when applying. This will give good insight on how your qualifications match up with theirs, like GPA, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and college essays. After this session is the tour of the campus. You basically walk around and visit the main buildings of the campus for an hour and learn about everything not discussed in the information session, like social life, housing, food, sports, and clubs. Another really great thing you can sign up for is a classroom visit. I once visited a college and sat in during one of their Physics II classes. This was an amazing experience for me, because I got to feel like a student and understand the learning style as well as lecture quality. As an outsider I also got to watch the students themselves and see how they interacted with one another. Classroom visiting may not be available at every college, but it gives you a great look into student life. Not to mention I learned a lot about physics in those 50 minutes!
When you drive (or fly) to your college pack everything you would need if you were going to a sleepover or staying overnight at a hotel. When I visited colleges, I stayed overnight and did one or two colleges a day for two days, so I only had to pack light (DON'T FORGET SNEAKERS AND AN UMBRELLA***). Bring a notepad and pen to take notes when you visit, especially during the information session. Sure, you could use your phone to take notes, but one of the colleges I went to made everyone turn off their phones completely, so we needed actual paper to write things down. Also expect to take a lot of pictures of the buildings, landmarks, dorm rooms, dining halls, etc. Over time you forget what it looks like (especially because so many colleges use red brick!) and you don't want to lose that feeling you got when you visited. Sometimes going through your photo album jogs your memory a bit and reminds you why you liked a college so much.
After a long day of touring, there is one last thing you should ask a local student (and the most important for me): "What are some of the best eateries around town?" While it may seem silly, the students know best and oftentimes know the trademark restaurants near campus. Boston, for example, had dozens and dozens of food places, ranging from Indian, to Tex Mex, Shake Shack, Korean, you name it. I was recommended a burger place nearby and I ended up eating one of the most amazing burgers ever****. All in all, try something new! For all you know, it could be your new favorite place to eat lunch with your friends if you end up going to that college!
After your tour, drive around the surrounding area. The college campus may be beautiful, but the town not so much. Rate the safety and feel of the town because after all, you don't want to feel uncomfortable walking around off campus if you're alone. See where the closest grocery store or convenience store is. Look for any places to shop and eat food. Notice whether or not the town is a college town, like Boston where one in four people are college students. See how diverse (or not diverse) the people are both on campus or in the surrounding town.
Last but not least, take some more notes. I usually write things down during the long drive home. Make a list of pros and cons of the college and write down anything that struck you as interesting or strange.
- What was your favorite thing?
- How would you rate the academics?
- Are you interested in any programs? Sports or clubs?
- What was something that surprised you?
- How nice were the people?
Writing things down is extremely important because trust me, you will forget what the college is like. After a number of visits, everything will blur together and you won't remember which school had the vegetarian option, or which school required a liberal arts class every semester. This is also beneficial when you need to compare colleges and make the big decision come next spring.
I hope this article was helpful and you or someone you know will feel more at ease when it's time for college visiting. It all seems stressful, but take it one day at a time and always prepare for anything life throws at you. I'm only a junior and I still have a long way to go, but visiting is fresh in my mind and I can only give advice based on personal experience. Another thing I wanted to mention was be ambitious. College visiting is fun, but it can be very discouraging when you see you need a 100 GPA to get in or a 2300 on your SATs, which are all very difficult to achieve. Even if you know can't get in, just try. One of my tour guides (who happened to be from Harvard) told me that no one feels confident when they hit the "send" button on their applications because everyone is nervous and scared they aren't good enough. This made me realize that we are all in the same boat, so don't let people say you can't do it, because you most definitely can, and you never know until you try. Colleges look for more than just grades and they want to see a human being in an application, not a robot. My biggest advice is dream big and never forget about your ambitions! Good luck!
*At Binghamton University they have the option of rooming "chemical free." This means that you are roomed with someone who doesn't smoke or do drugs or drink, at least in the room. This saves you from living in a smoky dorm for a year.
**I remember visiting a few Ivy schools and asked if the students were pretentious or overly competitive, because of the negative stereotypes associated with them. Turns out the students were all very welcoming and surprisingly...normal!
***Trust me, you need sneakers when you tour, especially if you're hitting more than one college in a day. There is a LOT of walking. Also, check the weather a few days before you visit, because as luck would have it, I ended up splashing through the rain for more than half of my college visits and we forgot our umbrella. ****By the way, the restaurant was called Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers, which happens to be one of the best burger places in the U.S.!