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Charlotte-area colleges receive spring break visitors

Waking up at 3 a.m. may seem extreme for some high school students, especially during spring break.

But 17-year old Brynn Rodie and her father, Bill, were up and preparing for their Friday morning flight to Charlotte. The Stratford, Conn., family flew in for just a few hours so Brynn Rodie could visit Queens University. Rodie hoped to be one of more than 50 high school seniors to attend Queens’ admitted-student day program.

During a regular week at Queens, 20 prospective students normally visit for appointments. This week, that number tripled.

And at Johnson C. Smith University, about 25 to 50 visit most weeks. This week, about 500 students and families toured the campus.

Spring break doesn’t mean just vacations for high school students. For many, it’s prime time to get a first look at possible colleges.

Gary Carpenter, executive director of the National College Advocacy Group, said spring break tends to be a popular time of year to visit because families don’t have to take their students out of school to travel.

Even in a digital and Internet-based age, Carpenter said, nothing can replace an actual visit to prospective schools.

“You’ve got to go on-site and see what it’s like. In my situation, we had eight schools my son was looking at. The ones that were No. 1 and 2 (choices) were dropped off the list almost immediately after we visited,” he said.

“Families need to go visit these schools to get a real feel for what the school is like and if it’ll be a good fit. … It’s amazing what you can do with websites and pictures,” Carpenter said. “They get a lot of brochures, mailings, information on why it’ll be just right. (But students) won’t know what it’s like till they go there.”

Brynn Rodie said her first visit to Queens was in February and she was pleased the actual campus was the way it was portrayed online.

Bill Rodie said they had visited six campuses since his daughter’s junior year and had been let down at several when the campus visits didn’t live up to expectations the websites created.

Navigating ‘a scary process’

“They only show you the best things online,” he said. “You don’t know if two blocks away there’s a slum.”

Brynn Rodie said she hasn’t made up her mind where she’ll attend yet, but noted campus visits have helped her streamline the list of possibilities

Emmie Horadam, a junior at Queens who has acted as a student ambassador during all three years there, said she chose to participate because she remembers her own campus visits. “It’s a scary process, and I wanted to help with that,” she said, noting she sees visitor traffic increase during spring break.

“If they’re a junior and just starting out, a lot are overwhelmed. If they’ve had four to five visits, they know what to ask and what they’re looking for,” she said.

‘A bonding experience’

Charlotte-based college adviser Lee Bierer, who writes the weekly Observer column “Countdown to College,” said spring break campus visits can often be both informational and sentimental.

“For a lot of families, it’s the last big trip where (the students) are still in high school,” she said. “They’re also a great bonding experience.”

Claire Kirby, UNC Charlotte director of admissions, said the school added an additional morning tour during spring break for a mix of North Carolina and out-of-state visitors.

“We are running two tours per day this week,” Kirby said in an email, noting each session has been filled for a rough total of 100 guests per day.

Johnson C. Smith University officials expect at least 150 to attend the school’s open house on Saturday.

At Queens, Brian Ralph, vice president for enrollment, said the majority of this week’s visitors were high school juniors or sophomores from out of state, having traveled from California, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Jersey, among others.

Matt Current is a senior at Charlotte’s United Faith Christian Academy off Providence Road. He committed to play soccer for Queens on Friday and said the decision was influenced by campus visits to other schools.

“I know (Queens) is a small school, but it felt like the place for me,” he said.

Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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