Spring Break College Visit

Spring Break! The two most beautiful words to any student during the dreary month of February. You can see it just beyond the horizon, all shiny and full of promise: sleeping late, bumming around, not doing homework. If you’re not beach-bound this March, Spring Break is a great time to visit potential colleges. Instead of the annual family road trip to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (which, incidentally, is in Cawker City, Kansas), why not suggest a trip to the educational institute of your choice?

All colleges and universities look like parent-free paradises in their glossy, professionally photographed brochures full of glowing yet vague praise from students and faculty. Honestly, though, only a flunky PR manager would openly admit that the student body subsists on Lucky Charms and French fries because the food service is only one notch up from the Federal Penitentiary. Don’t you want to know what is hiding behind that million dollar ad campaign? This is your chance to put your Nancy Drew obsession to good use. It’s better to find out now that your No. 1 is more of a nightmare from Elmstreet than a dream come true.

What should you do during a college visit? The usual: go on the campus tour, eat in the cafeteria, attend a class, talk to other students. However, keep in mind that the students leading these tours are probably on scholarship and have school spirit leaking out of their pores. To get an honest look at a school, try to arrange an overnight stay. That way you can see how everything works when people stop trying to impress your parents.

Below are some important questions to ask on your visit. They will give you a lot of insight into what life there is really like.

  • Do people stay on campus on the weekends?
  • What is the surrounding city like?
  • Can undergraduates have cars?
  • Are there a lot of school-sponsored activities? Does anyone attend?
  • How powerful is the Student Government?
  • Is Greek Life a big deal?
  • How big are classes? Are there TAs? How often do they teach class?
  • How often do you talk to your professors in a semester? Do they have regular office hours?
  • What does the Career Services Center offer?
  • Are there a lot of opportunities for internships or study abroad?
  • What is the worst thing about the school?
  • Who’s everyone’s favorite professor?
  • What’s the best/worst class to take?

Keep in mind this is not Hardball Chris Matthews. Don’t feel like you need to grill the students you talk to; most of these will come up in casual conversation. I suggest you bring a notebook with you to record your original impressions of the school. This will give you something to review when you’re back at home.

***NOTE TO PARENTS: A concrete goal is always a more powerful motivator than an abstract one. Falling in love with a specific college is often just the incentive a junior with lackluster test scores needs to really focus. Want to learn more about the fine art of motivation? Read Jed’s new Jed Said Article.***

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