High school spring break is the best time to see a campus in full swing; with students shuffling to classes, a cappella groups serenading and individuals and groups demonstrating their viewpoints. It’s when you’ll get your most honest read on whether the college is a good fit for you.
Here are some suggestions of what NOT to do on your campus visit:
1. Don’t assume you already know what you need to know about the college and create your own visit. Make sure you attend the information session led by the admissions office and explore the college with a formal campus tour led by a student ambassador.
A lot of valuable information is shared in the info session, and it’s the best time to get your questions answered directly by a key decision-makers. Be certain to register when you arrive at the admissions office since many colleges track demonstrated interest; they will want to know that you made the effort to come and see their school.
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If all you have time for is a “drive-by” visit, at least try to get out of the car and talk with some students so you can evaluate if it will be worth your time to return for a formal visit.
2. Don’t overlook schools nearby. Colleges and universities don’t expect every prospective applicant to visit. However, colleges within driving distance have higher expectations for visits than colleges on the other side of the country.
If you choose not to visit colleges that are within driving distance, they will likely assume you’re just not that interested in attending. While there is no magic number, I think you can assume colleges within a day’s drive (seven hours) expect you to visit if they rank high on your list.
3. Don’t forget to do your homework. There is a huge difference in the quality of the visit when a student has done advance research. Asking smart, substantive questions that can’t be answered in a college guidebook or on the college website can impress an admissions representative. Read about the college, review its list of majors, study abroad options, clubs and student activities.
If you know you’re interested in something highly specific, such as a “living and learning community” where students with common interests (environment, language, social action, etc.) live together and participate in extracurricular activities together, explore the options and arrange to meet appropriate people. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask about need-based or merit-aid scholarships.
4. Don’t be too judgmental. Don’t make gross generalizations about the college or its students based on a “bad” tour guide, a single interaction or just by observing how a few students were dressed or groomed.