High School 2 College

July 31, 2015

Making the Most of College Visits

I recently posted advice about visiting colleges and then saw this article in Forbes magazine from one dad who went on some tours with his daughter.  His advice was right on the money.  Spring break is the best time to visit colleges, but if you didn’t get to visit then, or if you need to see a few more schools, the early fall is an excellent time to visit schools.

I don’t believe that you need to see every school your student will apply to.  After all, if she gets into Harvard, she’s going, right?  And if she only gets into her bottom safety school, who cares what the dorms are like?

Of course, colleges are looking for good grades, good scores, good community service, a good essay, and good recommendations.  But they’re also looking for something called “demonstrated interest.”  They want to know that you didn’t just send them an application because it was easy to click one more “send” from the Common App.  They want to know that you’re actually interested in attending that school.  So visiting a college fair and filling out a name-and-address card is one way to show demonstrated interest.  And when a representative from a college on your list visits your student’s guidance department, have him attend because that’s a strong way to show demonstrated interest.  Emailing the admissions department with a question that isn’t answered on their website also shows demonstrated interest.  But one of the clearest way to show interest is to visit the college on a tour.

It makes sense to visit at least one smaller school from your list and at least one large school, at least one urban school if you have any on your list and at least one suburban or rural school, and so on.  Here’s some more practical advice:

1.  You should plan to visit schools by geography.  Many kids from my area of the U.S. do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson).  Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit several colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming.  Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them.

2.  Sign up online for tours.  Some schools print a schedule and you just go on any tour that’s convenient, but many require you to sign up in advance.  Do that.  You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.

3,  Find out if you can interview with an admissions person.  Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions.  Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website).  Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors?  How many professors are in that department?  How many students graduate with that major?  Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?); about housing (Do they house all freshman together?  Are there substance-free houses or theme houses?  Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?); or anything else that interests you.

4.  While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria.  You can meet them there afterwards.  NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it.  That gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own.  Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear.  Parents, find a random student and ask questions like, “Would you choose this school again?  If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here?  What’s the worst thing about this school?”  You’d be surprised how honest students can be.  If the worst thing is the freshman dorm, big deal.  But if the worst thing is that the professors are inaccessible or the administration doesn’t care about the students or required classes are often closed out (too many students), you may want to move on to the next school on your list.

5.  Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures.  Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the well-stocked labs.

Yes, you can see schools in the summer, but it’s not the same without students there. If you’re going into your Junior year in high school, ask your parents to save some work vacation days for spring college visits.  If you’re a Senior in high school, plan to visit schools as early in September as you can. You probably want to be applying to some schools early action – which means your applications must be completely done and submitted by mid-October.

Let me know if you have any questions about visiting colleges or any other aspect of applying to school

Wendy Segal




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