The following piece was written by Rachel Korn. Rachel has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, as well as the founder of her own admissions consulting firm.
In your search for your right college, there is no better single piece of data to collect than how you feel with your feet on a campus. Here’s how to maximize your visits:
1. Research beforehand. Visit school websites to get information about their scheduled visitor activities and plan ahead. If you have to pre-register for a tour, an information session or an interview, do that well in advance, especially if you will be visiting at a busy time - during high school breaks and in the summers. Investigate how to visit more than one school in a day, too (many people do). If you will be in a city like Boston, for example, with 60 colleges and universities in and around it, you could definitely visit 2 schools in one day with the right planning.
2. Dress the part. You are interacting with the admissions office. While you do not have to dress up and you should definitely wear comfortable shoes for walking, you should wear clothes you would wear to school – nothing too revealing. Your wardrobe is noticed. Don’t make admissions officers uncomfortable talking to you.
3. Take advantage of everything official offered. Attend information sessions; take campus tours; visit classes; lunch with students. All these activities are critical to build a well-rounded understanding of a school. The information session, with an admissions officer, will give you the facts and talk about the school’s particular admissions process, and the tour and other interactions with students will give you the feel of the school. You get both the intellectual and the emotional experience.
4. Ask questions. This is a unique chance to learn – take advantage of it. Since no one knows you and since the admissions staff and student volunteers have probably heard it all, there is a 99% chance that you cannot embarrass yourself. At the very least, collect student and staff e-mail addresses for questions later. If you are shy and prefer just to listen on tour, you can always pull the tour guide aside afterwards to ask. Same goes for the information session. If you have questions for the admissions officer but prefer not to speak during the presentation, you can ask the staff member afterwards or return to the admissions office later to speak one-on-one.
5. Try to meet your admissions officer. You may have the chance to meet the person potentially reading your application and the applications from your area. It would not hurt to make a connection and show your seriousness if you have questions specifically for that person. Caution: if you have nothing intelligent to ask, though, it may be unwise to have the admissions officer called from his/her office to meet you. Make a positive impression with thoughtful questions.
6. Check our facilities you hope to use. Think about your goals. Do you want to major in a science? Try to visit a lab. Are you interested in the performing arts? Drop by theater spaces.
7. Go off the beaten path. Once the official offerings are over, don’t leave yet. Stop random students to ask questions. Collect more opinions than just those of the tour guides who generally love their schools. This is especially important if you did not like a particular tour guide - try to understand if the person is representative of the school or if actually, there are many other kinds of people there like you. You can go to a student union or a major walkway and stop students. If doing this with your parents would feel embarrassing, try to send your parents to a café on campus for an hour and venture on your own. They can do their research, you can do yours.
8. Take notes. If you will visit several schools, jot down your impressions on each visit to differentiate the schools later. Libraries, dorms, cafeterias and sports complexes will become frighteningly similar by the end.
9. Keep an open mind. It may be that the specific dorm you see is not your taste or perhaps the tour guide is a bit strange – or it is just a rainy, miserable day and you (and the college students) want to just hide inside. Perhaps you are there during the college’s break and it is a bit empty. Remember to take what you see in a bigger context and try not to let things like these unfairly color your feelings about a school. Believe it or not, these small things strongly influence your impression, so try to separate a “bad day” from a “bad fit campus.”
10. Enjoy! Have a great time seeing what college life is like and have fun learning what makes each school unique.
Remember: Schools admit a great number of students who cannot visit prior to applying due to their finances or their distances from the campuses. It is not held against you if you cannot visit due to these reasons (admissions officers realize that) - you can prove in your application how much you are interested, and admissions should happily admit you if you fit their criteria. The visit is a chance for you to learn more than it is a chance to influence your application. There is a fairness to the system.
Visit Rachel’s Admissions Consulting site.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.