Plan the Path’s Guide to What to do After Your College Visit
The process of visiting colleges can be exhilarating, as you get a glimpse of campus life and the autonomy you’ll have as a student. You’ll gain a preview of what it means to substantively delve into academic studies of your choosing. And you get a feel for the way that a college’s character is shaped by numerous factors: its location, architecture, student population, and other traits that define its academic and cultural life. On paper, a school might have everything you’re looking for, but you might discover it doesn’t feel right to you. It’s important to be attentive to your reactions, while acknowledging that your perspective can shift.
Once you’ve completed your first group of school visits, you can take a deep breath. From here on, the college exploration process can be a lot of fun. You’ve developed a sense of what to see on future visits—and if your must-see essentials include the library, the student center, the gym facilities, etc.—and how much you need to know in order to make a smart decision about applications and acceptances down the road. So now that the visit is over, it’s time to process what you saw and heard.
My big tip for students: As soon as possible after you visit, take notes about your experience and your impressions of the school. This way you’ll remember your reactions and can use this information later when you decide which schools to apply to. As time passes, your memories can become less distinct, and if you visit numerous schools, your experiences can blur together. How you feel when you return home—or a week or two or even a month later—will likely be different than when you first set foot on campus. You’ve had time to think about it; you may have seen other schools in the interim, and with some time and experience, your feelings can change—and you may not fully remember everything you saw and what you felt.
Here’s how to evaluate your experiences at each of the schools:
1. First, pull out the Campus Visit Guide you downloaded (or used) for your visits. You will be able to see how you felt at the time you visited, and if you’re lucky, you jotted some notes on the back of the document giving yourself even more information.
2. Then try to picture yourself at the campus. How did you feel at the time and how do you feel now? Can you articulate the difference, if they are indeed different? What did you like about the school then, and how have your feelings changed—if they did?
3. Download and use the Evaluation Form to keep a running list of the schools you’re serious about. This way, you can compare them all in one place. Consider the criteria I’ve listed—including high and low points of the tour, school size, and more—and add any other considerations that you think will be helpful for your decision. For example, if you’re a biology student, did the laboratories look like they were cutting-edge or out-of-date? As a prospective theater major, do you think the facilities would suit the performances you’d like to do? Or if you want to get involved in intramural sports, was there a particular team that matches your interests?
4. You can develop a numbering system, say from 1–5, that allows you to give the school a rating. Since this is your personal system of assessment, you have free rein in deciding what criteria to use.
The small amount of time you take to record this information will make your future decisions better-informed as well as more strategic and efficient; you’ll save loads of time. Your notes and all of the “thinking” you do will help you fill out your applications, particularly when the various schools ask you to write about “Why our college?” and “What is special to you about our university?” By preparing so much ahead of time, you are making the process of the applications easier for yourself, and you are learning so much about yourself.
Evaluating and rating schools will be helpful in whittling down your list to the schools you want to apply to. You don’t want to submit 15 applications because you weren’t able to establish your preferences, or you don’t remember your impressions. Taking notes immediately after your visit will help you to narrow down your choices to a manageable—and appropriate—number of applications.