By Peter van Buskirk
As the school year winds down, the college search process often begins. For many students, this includes plans to visit U.S. college campuses. Common questions are: When is the best time to visit? and What should we expect to accomplish?
The answers: Visit when you can, and Soak up as much information as possible! Ideally, you would visit when classes are in session and the campuses are full of life. That may not always be possible, though, so go when you can.
Give yourself exposure to many different kinds of places: big schools, small schools, research universities, liberal-arts colleges, urban campuses and places out in the country. As you visit, allow your senses to guide you. Ultimately, it will be a “sixth sense”—or “gut feeling”—that will lead you to the ones that suit you best.
Some other tips:
Take advantage of everything the school has to offer If an interview is offered, take it! Take a tour. Visit an academic department in which you have an interest.
Plan ahead Try to schedule your visit at least two weeks in advance. You may need to call two months ahead for an interview appointment.
Prepare wellRead information about the school. Look for potential synergy between your interests, perspectives and learning style and the school’s offerings. On campus, test your initial impressions and see how you fit.
Arrive earlyGive yourself time to walk around before touring. Find a snack bar or someplace where you can sit and comfortably take in campus life. How do people relate to each other and to you?
Get more than one opinion Much of what is offered formally by a college is staged for your benefit. It’s part of the sales pitch. If you can, go “backstage” to learn more. Visit the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Introduce yourself to students and ask questions like: “What do you like most about your experience?” “How would you describe the academic environment?” How do you see yourself fitting into the what they’ve shared about life on that campus?
Record your visit Make notes. Take pictures. The more colleges you see, the more they will become a blur in your mind. Give yourself a visual index to avoid confusion later.
Build relationshipsYour campus visit gives you a chance to establish relationships with interviewers and information session presenters who might be decision-makers on your application. Collect business cards and stay in touch with them in appropriate ways.
Connect with the recruiter Find out who recruits in your area or country. If that person is available, introduce yourself. If not, ask for his or her business card. Consider him/her as your “go to” person when you have questions later on.
Absorb itResist the impulse to make an immediate judgment about a campus. Your first reaction is bound to be emotional. In the end, you need to remain as objective as possible.
Focus on fitHow does the college you’re visiting meet your academic needs? Will you be challenged? Does the college offer a sense of community that makes you feel “at home?”
Make a virtual visitNot able to travel to the U.S to visit a college you’re considering? There are other options that can help you get a feel for what the campus looks like as well as the school’s academic and cultural environment. Many institutions offer virtual campus tours on their websites. In addition, some colleges and universities hold webinar information sessions, which will enable you to learn more about what makes that school unique. You may also have a chance to ask questions. Finally, it’s a good idea to identify the admission staff who recruit in your country or region so that you can reach out to them with any questions not covered on the website, in the virtual tour, or the webinar.
Peter Van Buskirk, former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College, is the director of student advocacy at Revolution Prep (www.revolutionprep.com/resources).