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College Visits: Are you taking the guided tour or getting the information you really need?

Summer is upon us and this is the time of year when many students and their families visit colleges across the country.  Some refer to this as the “grand tour” and take a week or more to visit every college on their list.  Others take a more casual approach and visit schools on their way to their summer vacation.  No matter which applies to you, make no mistake that the college visit is a very important part of the college application process.  You may have heard the term “demonstrated interest”, college admission folks tend to throw this out at every presentation, meaning that they would like you to visit their campus before applying.  Some schools keep a record of all those who have visited and express interest and may refer to those records once they receive your application.  In my conversation with an admissions officer at an Ohio college she indicated that she had three piles of applications on her desk; admitted, denied, and those who have not visited the campus. The “no visit” group would receive an invitation to visit before they would be considered for admission. In contrast, some schools do not keep any record of your visit and do not use “demonstrated interest” in their evaluation of your application. If you cannot travel to the campus because of time or expense, you can contact your regional admissions officer and find out when they are visiting hometown and arrange a meeting. 

However, rather than view the college visit as another admissions hoop to jump through we prefer that our students use the visit to discover their interest in the school and learn more about what they are looking for in a college.  Let’s be honest, college visits can be anything from inspiring to awkward and everything in between.  Also, sometimes the tour is only as good as the tour guide.  I recently attended a college tour at a school that I was determined to love but because the tour guide provided very little information and didn’t really convey to me what it was like to be a student at this college I left with more questions and an unsettled feeling about the campus.  In sharp contrast I had tours where the student ambassador was so good at not only providing the memorized script of campus highlights but sharing their best and worst moments on campus that I left with some real insight into the school and its student body.  Of course, we are always hoping for the latter type of tour but when that doesn’t happen there are questions you can ask and things you can do while on campus to enrich your experience and help you gather the information you need to decide if you are interested in applying.

Campus Visit Tips

  1. Plan your visit carefully.  Some campus’s offer tours, information sessions, lunch with a current student, classroom observation, etc.  Further, if you are an athlete, artist, or musician you will want to schedule time to meet the coach or faculty chair and tour the facilities associated with your special talent.  Be sure when you register that you are making the most of your time on campus and taking advantage of all that is offered.

  2. Take notes and photos to use later to remember key points that you may want to consider when applying or you may want to refer to in your essay.

  3. Tour the dorms or housing options.  Larger schools sometimes designate certain tours to include dorm visits and others do not.  You will want to see the dorms if possible and be certain to ask if housing is guaranteed and for how many years.  Generally, larger schools do not guarantee housing for all four years, and this can have an impact on the cost of your education so find out what housing options are available.

  4. Meet your regional admissions representative.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to meet the admissions officer who is responsible for your area of the country.  It is likely that this is the person who will be responsible for review of your application if you decide to apply.

  5. Eat in the cafeteria.  Almost every campus you visit will have a Starbucks, Subway, Einstein’s, etc. which are tempting but try the school cafeteria instead.  Every tour guide will tell you how good the food is but you won’t know until you try it.

  6. Pick up a school newspaper and pay attention to the signs posted by clubs and organizations around campus.  You can learn a lot about student life reading the campus newspaper.

  7. Ask questions! If your tour guide doesn’t have the answers to your questions someone in admissions will be able to help you. 

College visits can be stressful and a little overwhelming.  It can be difficult for students to know what questions to ask and how to compare one college to the next.  You will want to consider asking questions about: financial aid, average work load, access to faculty, research and internship opportunities, service opportunities and study abroad options.  The Essential College Coaches can customize your preparation for campus visits allowing you to gain valuable insight into the right college fit for you. 

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