Visiting college campuses this spring?
You have completed the tour, listening politely as the guide extolled the college’s many virtues. Now it’s time to flee campus and head off to schools #2 and #3 and repeat. Or, maybe not. A formal tour is just the beginning in learning about a school. You can digest a number of facts about the college, particularly if you are in a small group and have plenty of time to ask questions. However, it is highly advisable to spend additional time on campus and in the surrounding town exploring on your own. Here are some suggestions for gathering information that will help you decide whether to include a college on your list of potential schools.
- Talk with students at random. Questions might include: Where are you from? What made you select this college? What are the positives/negatives about the school/larger community? If you started your search over, would you choose this college again? Is there a strong academic support system on campus? What do you do on weekends? Ask questions that matter to you, and take notes to keep information on each college well-organized.
- Sit in on a class. If you have a strong idea about what you want to study, request to visit a course in that subject. Otherwise, select an academic area that interests you, and ask to sit in on a freshman-level course. Being in a classroom provides additional time to speak with students. Talking with freshman will help you learn about their transition to college, and they might offer some sage advice for a smoother settling in period.
- Learn about housing options for freshman year and beyond. If specialized housing, such as a green dorm, quiet floor, or substance-free residence hall interests you, ask if these options are available and how to become eligible for them. Living-learning communities and honors dorms are offered at many schools with certain qualifying criteria. Again, have someone explain how to register for these opportunities.
- Check out the surrounding community and transportation options to off-campus venues. You likely won’t have a car freshman year, so it is helpful to know what system the university/city provides to help you access activities or services in town. No matter how great life is on campus, you will want a break from time to time. Consider whether engaging with the city or community will augment life on campus and enhance your overall experience.
- Visit the career services office and ask how soon they begin working with students and what resources are offered to freshman undecided on a major. Is it possible to work with one advisor throughout college so that that person gets to know you well? Check to see if there is assistance with locating internships. (Career services might seem a bit overwhelming, possibly irrelevant, to juniors visiting colleges. Parents might want to take the lead in this area by gathering information that they can then introduce into the conversation when college choice is being decided in the spring of senior year.)
- Pay attention to your gut feelings. No matter how great a school looked online or how extraordinarily beautiful the campus, if you have a bad vibe, even without understanding why, don’t ignore it. Students often say “This place just felt right” in describing their choices, and their instincts proved correct.
Visiting colleges takes time and shouldn’t be rushed. Students are assessing many factors in order to decide where to apply. Doing this work gives them direction and purpose when they begin submitting applications, along with confidence that they are considering schools right for them based on careful investigation and trusting their instincts.
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