Make the most of your college visits!
In my mind, Easter – with its baby bunnies, painted eggs ready to hatch fluffy chicks, and pastel-foiled chocolates – symbolizes the true beginning of the spring season. When I eat a jellybean, I can actually feel flowers blooming in my mouth. By the way, if you’re looking to get me a gift this Easter, Starburst’s tropical-flavored jellybeans are my favorite. Just in case you were thinking about it. No pressure! What was I talking about? Oh yes, spring! Spring is the season for new beginnings, so it only makes sense that it is traditionally the time when high school juniors soon to be seniors embark on an integral early of the college journey: the “campus visit” tour. Juniors, you’ve got a fun couple of months coming up. Get ready to hop into the backseat for endless hours in the car with your parents, driving from one school to the next, reading an infinite number of informational pamphlets, and watching a series of highly coordinated tour guides perform the incredible feat of walking backwards for longer than 5 minutes without falling down. How do they do it?!?
The thing about college visits is that, if you go on enough, one college begins to blend into another and you end up having no idea where you’ve been, what you saw, and what you liked. Well, that’s what can happen if you don’t go about things properly. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to make the most of your visits and avoid falling victim to ”Campus Tour Fatigue Syndrome”…
Before you go on a visit, take a few hours to do a bit of sleuthing into the school you’ll be visiting. Read as much as you can about the school online, in those nifty college guidebooks (the U.S. News’ Best Colleges Guide is a good place to start!), and in any brochures or pamphlets the school may have sent you in the mail. By doing your own research, you’ll have an idea of the questions you want to ask your tour guide during the visit. Don’t forget to write down any questions you think of!
Bring along a notebook and camera on every visit. That way you can take notes on the things you like and don’t like about the school, and take pictures of the campuses. Later, if you’re feeling crafty, you can even make a “scrapbook” of the schools you visited to flip through when you’re deciding where to apply and where to go.
Ask as many questions as you can think of. Campus tour guides have a script they’re supposed to stick to, so it’s almost guaranteed they won’t address every issue that’s important or of interest to you. That’s why you’ve got to ask questions! If you just follow along silently like a little goat, you’re letting a critical opportunity to learn about the college slip through your fingers.
Example questions to ask include:
-When do I have to declare my major?
-What’s the average class size?
-What is the course registration process like? Is it difficult to get into the classes you want to take?
-What resources are available to students seeking academic help?
-Are there internship programs offered through the school?
-What is the transfer rate?
Obviously, there are a million more questions you might ask, depending on what’s important to you and your family.
Take some time after the tour to explore the campus on your own. The tour guide is going to show you the school’s selling points, but those pretty buildings and that nice new dining hall might not tell you the whole story about the school. Poking around on your own is the best way to see the full picture and form your own impression of the campus. Make sure to visit student hot spots like the campus center or coffee shop to get an idea of what students are like and if you’ll be able to feel comfortable in that atmosphere. If you’re not shy, try talking to a real, live student not employed by admissions to see what dirt s/he has to dish up. If possible, check out a dorm room or eat at the dining hall, as those are important aspects of college life that are not always addressed in the official tour. Maybe even schedule to sit in on a class if the school allows it!
After the tour, write down your impressions of the campus while they’re still fresh in your brain. If you don’t write them down, chances are you’ll forget them, and then it’s like the tour never happened and all your suffering was for nothing. Maybe you want to make a list of the pros and cons of each campus, or maybe you just want to jot down some notes. Either way, you’ll be creating a record of your college visits that you can consult when it comes time to choose where you want to go.
Remember: college visits are the best way to get a “feel” for a school. They offer an invaluable chance to get a glimpse into what your future might be like if you went to that particular school, so don’t let that opportunity go to waste! Try to soak in all you can during your college visits so you’ll be able to choose the school that is the best match for your personality and your interests. Plus, college visits can be fun! You get to travel around, see new places, stay in hotels, and eat fast food in the car with your parents: a dream come true. Stay positive, kids!
Aurora C., editor & jellybean freak