For many soon-to-be high school seniors it’s time to start seriously looking at colleges by visiting the campuses. Curious about what those admissions departments might be looking for or excited to narrow your list down? Jim Miller, dean of admissions at Bowdoin College, has some advice.
Typically, kids should start looking at colleges during their high school or junior year. They should start the serious looking the summer before their senior year. They can always return to their favorites during the school year.
PICK WHICH SCHOOLS YOU WANT TO SEE
How many schools should you visit? The truth is, visit as many as family dynamics can stand, but don’t feel as though you have to visit every one on your list. Visiting 6-8 schools is a fair balance. Visiting representative colleges (small, large, rural, urban, etc.) can work well, particularly if you’re unsure about specific colleges.
RESEARCH THE SCHOOL
Do some research before you visit the school. Look at Web sites, guidebooks, catalogues. Knowing something about the school beforehand gives you a better chance of knowing what it is you want to learn more about when you get there. If you have a huge number of schools you’re considering, it makes sense to first narrow down the numbers by researching the schools.
SCHEDULE AN INTERVIEW
Some schools interview on campus, some don’t. Some require an interview, most don’t. If they do require one, they should tell you. If you want to have an interview in the admissions office when you visit, call ahead to schedule it, but don’t feel you have to have one if it’s not required. Only schedule an interview if you think you’d like to have one. It could definitely be a good idea to do a first interview at a school that you might consider a “safety” so as to ease being anxious for the ones that count. Even if you aren’t sure if you’re going to apply to the school, it is worth doing the interview. You may find out that you like the school during the interview or you may find you like it better after looking at others.
TAKE THE ADMISSIONS TOUR
Take a tour — but don’t judge the college by whether you like the tour guide. This is the best way to see the “highlights” of the campus.
LEAVE PROOF THAT YOU’VE VISITED
Make sure you sign the admissions guest book or fill out a card indicating you’ve been on campus. Some colleges are using what’s called “demonstrated interest” as a factor in their admissions decisions. They are tracking your “contact” with the school. They may think you’re more interested in attending if you’ve visited and may be more likely to admit you.
PARENTS, LET THE KIDS ASK SOME QUESTIONS
For the parent: this isn’t your school visit. Don’t monopolize the tour guide, admissions officers, etc. And if you’re going to ask the “oh no” question (the one that makes everyone else in the audience or on the tour go “oh no”) warn your kid ahead of time.
TAKE YOUR OWN TOUR
One common mistake is looking at four schools in one day. Try to schedule time enough to see more than just the Admissions tour. Wander off the beaten track, kick the tires a little. The new science facility you saw on the tour may be impressive, but won’t mean much to you if you think you want to be an English major. If you have time, do your own tour after the official one is over. Look at places on the campus where you’ll actually spend a lot of your time if you attend the school — classrooms, dorms, dining halls, student centers, gymnasiums, music rooms, parking facilities, etc.
SPEND SOME TIME ON THE CAMPUS
Take your time — talk to current students you meet walking around. Ask them about day-to-day life on campus, find out what they like or don’t like about the school. Look at bulletin boards and kiosks, read the student newspaper. What’s happening on campus? Are there things going on you’d like to see or do? Don’t try to fit in lots of visits in one day.
In a perfect world, it is best to see schools during the school year but for obvious reasons (like high School) this is not always possible. Many schools have summer sessions so talk to those students. If you’re really interested in the school and don’t feel like you have met the students, go back during the school-year.
Overnights are available at schools. Try this for your top or second choice. It is a chance to be with students, eat in the dining hall, and go to classes. But again, don’t let your entire impression of the school fall on the student you are staying with!
IMAGINE YOURSELF AS A STUDENT
Stand in the middle of the campus at the end of your visit and imagine yourself as a student. How does it feel? If it all feels good, you may want to add the school to your list. Go with your gut.
KEEP NOTES AFTER VISITING
Write down things you want to remember about the school at the end of your visit — after visiting 2 or 3 schools it is very hard to remember what it is you liked or didn’t like about the place. Note questions to ask later and issues raised. Maybe come up with a pro/con list.