by Casey Near
Most students approach college visits and planning with a rinse-and-repeat model: check in at the admissions office, go on a tour, attend the info session, and leave with a swag bag. But what if you could get more out of a college visit? Every student is different with their own unique needs. How can you get more out of your college visits?
Consider what you’re grappling with in your college search. Are you uncertain about the size of some of the larger schools? Are you unsure if you’ll fit into the social scene of a rah-rah sports school? How can you make the most of your visit to answer your questions?
The following suggestions will help you personalize your school visits:
Ask to sit in on a class. Most admissions offices will have a list of classes open to visitors. See if one aligns with your interests. This is especially helpful if you’re wary about bigger classes, and gives you a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a student there.
Eat a meal in the dining hall. Other than testing out the quality of the food, this is a great one to do solo. As weird as it sounds, just observe people around you. Are they studying, goofing around, or heatedly discussing string theory? You can tell a lot about students on campus by the social scene at lunch time.
Go to the big game. If you’re around on a weekend, bring the family to a big event on campus: the football game, acapella concert, or political rally. It’ll give you a feel for what’s popular on campus. (Make sure to wear the right school colors to fit in!)
Ask questions. The two most common on-campus experiences for prospective students (the college tour and the information session) can often be missed opportunities to get a real feel for what type of student thrives on that campus if a prospective student doesn’t know what questions to ask.
The questions below can help you learn what you could truly only learn in person on a campus visit.
What type of applicant do you get excited about? This is a great question for an information session and/or to an admissions counselor. It gets to the heart of the process—the human part. What students catch their eye? Now, this isn’t meant to be asked to unlock some sort of secret formula to get into the school of your dreams. Think of it as a litmus test. When they list those qualities, do they sound like you or the people you tend to like? If they don’t, perhaps it’s a sign that this college isn’t a good fit. And if they do, jot those qualities down. It’s a reminder of what you’re looking for.
What are the most popular, exciting events on campus? This question gives you a sense of the social culture of the campus, and it’s a good one for tour guides and admissions officers alike. Maybe it’s a protest about a political issue, a big rival basketball game, or a dance marathon. Whatever it is, it’ll give you an idea of what people do for fun, what they care about, and what gets attention.
What qualities would you say your peers here have in common? The words that any tour guide would use to describe their peers may not appear on the website. But they’d capture the essence of the student body. Get them to open up about the student body as a whole, not just themselves. What do they notice as a common denominator?
Taken together, these answers paint a picture of the type of student that the college looks for and the type of student that thrives there. With those answers, you can decide if you fit in. If you don’t, don’t try to reverse-engineer yourself to fit that mold. But if it sounds like you and college would be a good match, you’ll walk away with a stronger, more specific vocabulary to describe what you want in your college applications and throughout the college admissions process.
Casey Near is a counselor at Collegewise. For more information, go to collegewise.com.