College visits are critically important in deciding your college, but done poorly, a college visit can waste your time, money, and energy! As students and families embark on college visits across the country this summer, I have some advice to share on how to visit smart.
To make a college visit productive, you need some tools to guide you in investigating and identifying the “right colleges” for you. Here’s what I believe makes for a successful college visit:
What You Want
Know what you want to get out of college. If that sounds too basic, remember that your first task is to research the college and learn what you won’t be able to learn on the internet or from your admission counselor. Most students want the college they choose to provide the following. Think of this with every college visit; do you see that college giving you this?
- A meaningful, purposeful, and enjoyable experience as you grow toward independent adulthood;
- Preparation for a career through which you can contribute their talents to the world;
- A network of friendships and career connections that will last a lifetime.
Look for This
The toughest part of the visit may be to discover how this college will challenge and support in several arenas: intellectual, social, emotional, physical, vocational and more. You want your college to provide an environment conducive to your positive development. How do you find this? Read on.
What Not To Miss
The area that most students miss in their visit is connecting with real people on the campus (not just admissions staff) and then assessing those connections. The three big ones:
Connect with Faculty and Staff
Well before your visit day, ask the admissions office to schedule an appointment for you with a faculty member from a department that interests you. This is important. Your professors are the people who will influence your career preparation. You need faculty who want to get to know you, become your mentors, help you find internships, and guide you in your career choices.
Connect with Students
Students need to assess if the students on this campus are a good social “fit” for them or not. That certainly does not mean that the students are all like them! Answer this question honestly: “Does this college environment have the mix of people that I want to befriend, support, and be challenged by?” So, you’ll have to strike up a conversation with current students on the campus. Ask them what they like and don’t like. Ask them why they chose this college. Ask them if they’d make the same decision again. Listen closely to their answers.
Assess the Campus Culture
What is the teaching style of the faculty? Do the students express values similar to what you’re seeking? Are they the kind of people that you want to learn from as peers? What campus activities align with your interests? Campus culture means the quality of student life and includes everything from residence hall living to campus organizations, leadership opportunities, campus services, and the mentoring of faculty and staff. Pick up the campus newspaper. What topics are hot on campus? Visit the student union. Do you sense a “flavor” of the campus?
Record Your Impressions
On the ride home (or to the next college), talk about your observations, then write down your impressions. Do not rely on your memory; you need more details on each college than your memory is capable of recording accurately. Trust your instincts and the “feel” you have about this campus. What did you like, what did you not like? Will you apply here? Why or why not? What questions have been left unanswered for you?
It takes gumption and insight for many high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors to investigate so thoroughly, but if you can find the courage to do so and then reflect on your impressions, you will be conducting valuable research toward finding the right college for you.
Want to know more about how My College Planning Team assists students and families in finding the right college? Contact us.