On Monday I visited Southern Oregon University. The tour was terrific. The guides were energetic. A doe and her fawns even pranced in front of the admissions office! What struck me most, however, was how few questions the tour participants asked and how basic those questions were. Considering the college visit is the most important activity of your college search process, it is important to take time to plan a meaningful experience. This starts by conducting research on your schools prior to the visit so you can use your time to fill in the details and determine how the college actually fits you. There is no need to worry about average class size when you can read that in the view book. Here are tips I hope you will find helpful as you plan your college visits.
The Planning Stage:
Contact the admissions office at least three weeks in advance to arrange your visit. Make sure you check the school calendar for any campus closures before making any travel arrangements. The school website may also provide a list of hotels that offer discounts for college visitors. It is best to visit colleges when classes are in session so you can get the full feel of the campus environment, not just the buildings. If you can only visit during the summer this is okay – just pay attention to the tour guides and other students on the visit. If you connect with them, chances are you will connect with the school.
Spend at least half a day on each campus. A ten minute drive-through is not helpful. Tours and information programs are the staples of a campus visit and unfortunately most students don’t venture beyond. You can make the most of your time by including the following options:
• Sit in on a class – experience the academic atmosphere
• Have lunch with current students – if offered
• Have lunch in the cafeteria – what better way to observe college students in their natural habitat?
• Schedule an interview with an admissions counselor
• Overnight stay – stay with a current student and experience what really happens on campus
• Meet with a professor/advisor in your area of study
• Meet with the financial aid office
• Meet with special programs – honors, learning differences, athletics, performing arts
• Snoop around – check the dorms not on the tour, are facilities are well-kept, see campus at night (is it a party school or so quiet you hear crickets?)
Process Your Visit:
Take photos and notes (I suggest developing a criteria sheet to use for each school). Have your family help with photos and notes so you can experience the “feel” of campus. After your visit, plan 10-15 minutes alone to gather your thoughts about the experience. Write them down. Remember, you might not be back on campus before you make your final college choice. Above all, trust your gut instinct!