Every year, thousands of otherwise intelligent and prudent high school seniors lose their cool and fall prey to the college admissions rat race. They frantically apply to the “best” schools, without ever taking time to find the right college. Between registering for standardized tests, writing essays, and completing college applications, they forget to focus upon a part of the college admissions process that is crucial to ensuring their postsecondary happiness and success–the campus visit. Campus visits allow college-bound students to experience first-hand the offerings of a particularly college, and come to informed decisions as to whether or not each of their target schools is truly a good fit.
This fall is an ideal time to visit the schools on your college radar; students have returned, class is in session, and the weather is still mild throughout much of the country. If you can find the time and opportunity to plan a visit, be sure to follow these five simple rules:
1. Schedule early. Campus-based tours and appointments tend to fill up quickly, especially during the height of admissions season, so schedule a visit with an admissions office at least several weeks prior to arriving on campus. Upon scheduling your visit, inquire about opportunities to speak with admissions reps, sit in on classes, meet with faculty, talk with current students, and if possible, partake in an overnight experience. It’s important that you take advantage of as many opportunities as possible during your campus visit, so that you’re able to determine if the college is truly right for you.
2. Request an admissions interview. Admissions interviews are offered by schools which require or recommend that prospective students meet with an admission officer as part of the application process. Admissions interviews present a wonderful opportunity for you to showcase intangible attributes that cannot be demonstrated via a grade or test score. Most liberal arts colleges offer admissions interviews, as well as other small-to-midsize schools that have the time and resources to meet individually with prospective students. It’s important to keep in mind that admissions interviews are evaluative and will be considered in the review of your application.
If offered an admissions interview, request to meet with the admission representative who covers your particular high school and/or region, as he/she will most likely be the one evaluating your application.
Due to the large size of their applicant pool, many universities are not able to offer individual admissions interviews. Instead, these schools offer information sessions, in which a school representative speaks to an individual or group of prospective students about the admissions policies and offerings of his/her respective school. Unlike the admissions interview, information sessions are not evaluative; but still show up. Attending these sessions communicates your interest in a particular school and may score you points in the admissions process.
3. Come Prepared. Before your visit, make sure to obtain a copy of your transcript, your student activities resume, and a copy of your standardized test scores (if applicable). This information will enable your admissions representative to realistically assess your chances for admission, as well as offer any advice that he or she may have on how to improve your application.
During the admissions interview, be prepared to discuss your courses, your extracurricular experiences, and your reasons for applying to the college (be specific). In addition, come with several questions that will enable you to learn more about the college and simultaneously demonstrate to an admissions rep that you have done your college research. As a general rule, save questions about meal plans, housing, and social life for the campus tour.
It is also important that you dress appropriately, shake hands, and maintain eye contact throughout your admissions interview; presentation is always key to a successful meeting. Most importantly, RELAX! Remember, admissions officers are ordinary people, no different and no more special than the rest of us.
4. Tour the campus. In addition to an interview or information session, most colleges offer campus tours. Campus tours are usually led by current students and provide you an opportunity to visit college facilities (i.e. classrooms, libraries, dorm rooms, cafeteria, etc.) and to ask questions about life at the college, including questions about student clubs, activities, social events, residence life, and the like. Make sure to dress comfortably and be prepared to walk, as campus tours usually cover a lot of ground and time.
5. Say thanks. Always send a thank you note to those with whom you have met during your campus visit (i.e. admissions rep, tour guide, students, faculty, etc.). A simple paragraph, which expresses your gratitude and reiterates your interest in the college, will suffice.
Finding the right college is no easy task. However, if you commit to visiting your prospective schools while adhering to the above guidelines, you are more likely to discover and attend a college that suits who you are, who you want to become, and what you want out of your undergraduate experience.