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The Top 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your College Visits

Spring break is (finally) around the corner, and many families are preparing to hit the road to visit colleges with their time off from school. Before you head out, we have put together our top 5 recommendations for making the most of your time on campus.

1. Put everything in perspective

Prior to heading out on your college visits, it is important to put the college admission process in perspective. Students should be encouraged by their families and counselors that there is no “best fit school”; rather, we should tell our students that there are multiple “good fit schools” where they will be happy, find academic success, and fit in. A successful college tour will focus not on searching for the dream school – instead, students should remain objective and open-minded at every school they visit. Even if you end up not getting a good vibe at a school, you can still learn from that experience and apply it to future visits. I started my spring break college trips thinking I would like to attend a large public university, but found that I felt a bit lost when we made it to Charlottesville to visit UVA. Instead, I was able to refocus my search on smaller schools, and ended up selecting Vanderbilt. View each college visit as a chance to refine what you are looking for in your college search – not just as a chance to learn about one particular college’s attributes.

2. Do not visit your number 1 school first

The “golden rule” of college visits is to make sure that you do not visit your favorite school first. If your itinerary allows, try to visit 2 or 3 schools that are not as high on your list so that you can have a diverse background of experiences with which to compare your favorite school to others that are on your list.

3. Plan ahead!

This Fall, I needed to go on a college visit for a course I was taking. I gave myself a 2 month window in which I would be available to visit colleges on any Saturday. Unfortunately, even with the flexibility I had in my schedule, I was unable to get into any special events at 3 different universities, including my first choice (Auburn University). Therefore, make sure you have properly registered through the admissions office for any events you wish to attend well in advance – if you show up without a schedule and without a reservation, you may end up going on an expensive, self-guided tour. It is especially important to plan ahead if you wish to participate in an activity that must be scheduled through the admissions office, such as an overnight visit in a dorm, sitting in on a class, or meeting an admissions officer for an interview.

4. Maximize your local options

Many counselors advise their students to visit all colleges that they plan to apply to that are within a 3 hour driving radius. Imagine, for a moment, that you are an admissions officer at the University of Georgia, and you are reading an application from a student. The essays look great, test scores are in range, and the student mentions things they love about UGA in their essays. You then note their address – the student lives in Atlanta. Why did they not visit? It is only a 70 mile trip. Is it possible that UGA is simply their backup school?

Visiting a college can count towards ‘demonstrated interest,’ which is a measure of your interaction with and interest in a particular university. By visiting schools that are nearby, you can make sure that you check a box in the demonstrated interest category and avoid raised eyebrows during your application’s review! Demonstrated interest is an increasingly important factor in college admissions; a total of 50.2% of all colleges consider Demonstrated Interest of Moderate Importance (33.3%) to Considerable Importance (16.9%), up from only 7% In 2003.

As for schools that are outside a 3 hour radius, these colleges are less likely to view your failure to visit as a negative on your application, and you can safely plan to visit these schools after you have been admitted.

5. Find ways to go above and beyond

The standard college tour will consist of a group information session (generally led by an admissions officer), and a campus tour led by a student tour guide. While you can learn a great deal by participating in these activities, look for ways to go beyond the carefully crafted speeches and planned tours to get a deeper sense for the campus.

  • Have lunch in the dining hall to get a sense of the quality of the food.
  • Check out the library to see whether students are studying alone or in collaborative groups.
  • See if you can visit a large, lecture-style classroom as well as a smaller classroom or laboratory.
  • Head to the bookstore but not for the t-shirts – the books in the bookstore are generally organized by department. Are the psychology books outdated and encyclopedia-like, or are the books contemporary with a nice mix of traditional texts and books like those you’d choose to read for fun?
  • Grab a copy of the school newspaper to get a sense of the hot issues on campus, and drive around the perimeter of the school to gauge the relative safety of the surrounding area.
  • Joe Greenberg, a regional director of admissions at George Washington University, suggests standing in the middle of a busy area of campus with a map and pretend to be lost: you can learn a lot about the friendliness and attitude of a student body with this strategy!
  • Finally, try to engage students in an off-the-record conversation about their likes and dislikes about their college – most students will be happy to chat with you if they have the time, and they will likely be less filtered than the students leading your tour of campus.

For more information, I will be hosting a webinar on this topic on May 10th. I will discuss what to pay attention to during tours, important questions to ask, and must-do activities that will maximize your experience. Sign up here!

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