Plan the Path’s Guide to Visiting Colleges
Once you’ve done the preliminary college search footwork to determine which schools you want to visit, finalize your plan and sign up for a tour and information session on the schools’ Admissions pages. The goal of visiting is to make sure that the campus—which includes its vibe, professors, student population, amenities, facilities, and local surroundings—would be a good place to explore your academic interests, pursue extracurriculars, and develop new relationships.
1. So here’s a solution: Consult our easy-to-use college search Campus Visit Guide and take notes on your phone or in a notebook; you should also take pics on your phone (include a photo of the college name so you remember which is which). The Guide will remind you to assess important details of the campus and help you capture your feelings about the school. It asks you to look at things you might not have thought of—like the bulletin boards for upcoming events or whether the library seems like a good place to study. When you’re done with the tour and back in the car, or having lunch at a local restaurant, jot down a few impressions in your cell or a “college search” notebook. Do this while it’s fresh in your mind instead of trying to recall it at a later date.
2. One of the most valuable aspects of the college search campus visit is the chance to speak to real students. Talk to them in the cafeteria or the café and ask them what they like best and least about the school. They’ll usually be honest. Do not necessarily ask your tour guide (they work for Admissions), but as you walk around campus or go for a meal, try to engage students. Here is a list of questions for them:
— What do you like the most about the school? The least?
— How much work do you get? Is it manageable?
— How competitive is it?
— Are professors available? Do they know your name?
— How many kids are in your classes? What have been your biggest and smallest classes?
—Are there things to do on campus during the weekends? What do you usually do?
3. The dorm visit is one part of the tour everyone loves. You hold your breath and cross your fingers that the dorm will be spacious, have a great view of the quad, include common space with a big-screen TV and a hall kitchen where you and your roommate can throw together a meal when the dining hall is serving burgers for the umpteenth time. Alas, most dorms don’t meet those standards. Do yourself a favor—unless the dorms are totally gross, don’t dismiss a potentially good school because the dorms may seem rough around the edges. The quality of the dorms increase with your grade level; by the time senior year rolls around, you’re usually living off-campus or in apartment-style dorms with your own living room and kitchen. Dorm living is part of the college experience, and an enjoyable one. Once you put up some posters, rearrange the furniture, and get yourself a small refrigerator, the space will feel more like home. You can always clear the air with an intention-setting meditation or other cleansing ritual.
4. It’s also worthwhile getting a sense of the campus cafeteria and food service options. In recent years, many schools have made efforts to specifically accommodate vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free students, and colleges are responding to their students’ foodie sensibilities. Some schools tout their sustainability accomplishments and purchase as much food as possible from local sources; others offer kitchen space in the cafeterias for students to make their own meals. Food might not be a dealbreaker in your decision-making process, but it can certainly contribute to the pros and cons.
There’s no substitute for seeing a campus, walking around, seeing the buildings, the students and trying to get a “feel” for what life in a particular school is like. You’re going to conceivably be spending the next four years of your life at a school, so it’s important to make sure it seems comfortable and can meet your needs. Some other advice before you head off: try to keep an open mind.
I know it can be hard when you have your friends and classmates talking in your ear—they heard something from their friend’s friend about the school you are visiting, or they read somewhere that the social life stinks. Just put those remarks aside and try to see for yourself. Believe it or not, you are the best judge of how you feel. The rest of us (me, your parents) are here to help you, and we will. But you need to trust your own feelings and try to articulate what felt good (or not so good) about a particular place.