All that Glitters: Avoiding the Surprise of Place in College Visits

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: May 11, 2011

Throughout your junior year you have been receiving fan mail from colleges and universities, many of whose names were completely new to you—and your parents. So, sooner than later (hopefully) you begin to ease yourself around the net, checking out the websites for these and other schools.

Urban environment. Exurbs. Cornfields. No matter what the location, college websites naturally paint the best possible pixel pictures of campus facilities. Be careful. All that glitters is not gold. Students over the years have been disappointed by the “final product” when they drive up to campus on that first day to unload at the gates of a freshman dorm.

To some observers, it appears that students glut the wires with a dozen applications or more, and accept admission to a school that they have never actually visited. How do you like the idea of a blind date that could last four years? No thanks.

Don’t procrastinate. As soon as you are down to your short list of undergraduate institutions that you’re considering, make plans to visit. A trip through a freshman dorm, combined with a visit to the student union, is worth its weight in gold.

While you can descend on a campus sight unseen and nose around to your heart’s content, expect neither to leave any lasting impression on the Admissions office nor gather specific information about the school (unless you are a real data miner in a hard hat!). Plan Ahead!

Call ahead. Get the schedule and sign up for an info session and campus tour. Try your hardest to visit classes during the academic year. On larger campuses, there are sessions in progress year round, but summer has a different feel from the traditional school year.

    When you get there:
  1. Sign in!
  2. Attend that information session; take that tour… and take notes & photos!
  3. Ask an intelligent question at the info session. Get the name of the admissions officer presenting. Send her or him a thank-you note when you return home.
  4. Chow down in the student union or wherever students hang out (ask your tour guide). Mix with students there, and ask about the pro’s and con’s of academic and non-academic life. You’ll find that undergrads love to share their insights.
  5. Attend a class, meet a professor, ask intelligent questions.
  6. Check out the extracurricular possibilities. Are they what you want?
  7. Hand out your “business card” (prepared before your visit) to every admissions person with whom you come into contact.
  8. Check out the course catalogue with a view toward your possible major (if you know what that will be). Don’t have a major in mind? Ask about the core or distribution requirements (but look that up in advance so you can ask a specific question!)
  9. Where’s the school located? No rolling campus, only busses and tall, anonymous looking buildings? Or are you surrounded in every direction by wheat and sorghum? Do you (and your parents) feel safe?
  10. Take digital pictures and notes the whole time you’re in the area (campus and city or town). When it comes time to respond in your application to the question of “Why have you chosen to apply to Oberlin College?” you can respond with first-hand aplomb! “When I walked across Tappan Square toward Finney Chapel…”. Nothing beats this kind of immediacy in your short essays!

Arrange your trips so that you can visit a number of schools within reasonable travel distance. Do NOT visit more than two schools on any one day.

Don’t be surprised. Plan now to get well acquainted soon with the schools of your dreams.

Topics: Tutoring Educational Consulting


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