Health & Family

‘Test drive' campus before you make your decision

It was perfect on paper. Really, it was.

The college seemed like it would be a perfect fit – small class sizes, beautiful campus, friendly students, appropriately academically selective, great depth of courses in her area of interest – but it didn't work for her in person.

It was that gut reaction you hear about. She just didn't feel like it was the right place for her to spend the next four years of her life.

One of my students remarked, “Boy was I glad I went to visit before I spent a lot of time working on application essays. I expected to love it and was sure I would leave the campus having my heart set on going there.”

She didn't hate it. In fact, she believes that she could have been happy there, she just knows that she can be happier someplace else.

Seeing is believing, or in this case believing is seeing a college up-close and personal. Going on a campus visit, which should always include, at a minimum, a tour and information session, is basically taking the college out for a test drive.

Items to consider:

CLIMATE: If possible, visit the college in its “extreme” season. If you are from the South and contemplating heading north, visit in January, not May.

TOPOGRAPHY: There are hills, and then there are hills! On many campuses, the dorms are clustered at the foot of a hill and the academic buildings are at the top of the hill. While it may build muscle, for some students it is a negative feature.

CAMPUS ENERGY: School spirit is a bit intangible. Some students evaluate how happy college students are based on the number of students wearing their own college paraphernalia. What does it mean when a majority of students are sporting other college garb?

SECURITY: What's enough or too much? Sometimes having too much security makes students feel more insecure.

ARCHITECTURE: Do you like the architecture? Is it varied? Is there a lot of construction going on? How will that affect you as a student?

GETTING AROUND: Is the campus walkable? If not, how do you feel about taking shuttle buses to class?

Don't do a “drive-by” visit where you don't get out of the car. While you may be able to decide if you like the campus, you won't be able to determine if it is really a good fit. If the college has made it beyond your exploratory list, you owe it to yourself and the college to do it right.