03 January 2006

Stuff College-Bound High School Students Should Know

This is the first in what is planned to be a series of entries over the next few months that will deal with the college search process. If you have any ideas for topics that you would like addressed, please email me.

I found this article on college visit tips. Before I get to the article, let me say that I hate when writings like this have no date attached to them. I would like to say that it is a recent article, but I am not really sure that it is because it refers to families "beginning the spring/summer college tour circuit." Well, it is neither spring nor summer, so I can only assume that this "new" article is only one that is refurbished from last year.

College visits are especially important to me. Part of my job responsibilities include training our campus tour guides and coordinating our campus visit program. I sift through the kudos and the complaints that come in the form of our visit evaluation form. In general, we know that we give a pretty good campus tour and have a solid visit program because we have a pretty nice conversion rate of people who come to visit campus who eventually choose to enroll.

The author of the above article discusses how many people do not get the full value from their college visits. It can be debated if the cause of this is because colleges are not providing the correct information or if prospective students and their parents are not asking the right questions. The reality is -- it is probably a little bit of both.

Tomorrow, I am sure that my work email inbox will include a number of disappointed folks who wanted to visit campus over the last week and change during the holiday break. These will be the people who came down, did not schedule an appointment in advance, and discovered that the school was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day. This is in addition to the number of disappointed people who tried to schedule appointments during this time and were told in advance that we would be closed. Apparently, our closing for the holidays is inconvenient. Given that we (collectively, who work in college admissions) do not make much money, one of the lures to the job is our coveted time off. In the past, we have tried to find volunteers from the office who were not traveling over the holidays to come in and give an admission presentation and brief tour of campus to families who "insisted" on coming during the time we were closed. The reality is that those visits are a waste of time for the folks visiting and a waste of time for us -- because these are the same people who are visiting the other schools on their list while they are open for business. We think that we are offering an additional service and doing our prospective students a favor by coming in to work on an off day and they would appreciate this. Instead, the visit evaluations show that they wanted to see a professor or sit in on a class and were disappointed that they couldn't do that! So, they visit another school for their Open House or such, and visit us when we are closed -- they do get to look at some impressive empty buildings! -- and then try to make a valid comparison? That is silly. If this topic interests you, click below for more.

The contra argument is that these are the times when it is convenient to come and visit; parents are off from work , students are out of school, it's warm here at Christmas time, etc. Trying to squeeze in a college visit in between Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house, a trip to EPCOT, or sunning yourself on the Florida beach SEEMS like a really good idea. But, you have to take into account what you are going to see if we are not able to accommodate a full campus visit. All the reasons you would want to see us in the first place -- the academic facilities, access to faculty, interaction with current students, etc. -- are not available when we are not open for business.

Some tips, in addition to the ones listed in the article, include:

  • Before making your travel arrangements, call the school or check their web site to see what days/dates are best for your visit.

  • Call and schedule an appointment. There may be special opportunities available to students that can only be planned in advance. Try to give the school at least one week's notice of your visit.

  • Allow at least one full day to visit each school. If schools are VERY close together -- think Drexel and University of Pennsylvania -- then you may be able to schedule more than one, but call the school and ASK if it is feasible.

  • Talk with your guidance counselor or trusted teacher. S/He may be able to offer some additional suggestions of nearby schools to visit or call a contact in the admission office to alert them of your interest.

  • Come prepared. Check the school's web site before you leave home to get a feel for what you might expect to see; have a GOOD list of questions to ask; manage your expectations; and be ready for anything unexpected that might come up.

  • Your visit may include an interview, an information session, an overnight visit, and other school-specific opportunities. Keep in mind that while you are evaluating the school, the school is also evaluating you. Even if you have already been offered admission, your behavior during your visit can still adversely affect you, and admission can be withdrawn. This is particularly important for overnight visits. Don't do anything that you wouldn't do in front of your parents.

  • Eat a meal on campus. Trust me, we didn't make anything special for you. If you are coming to our school, you will likely have to live and eat on campus your first year. One easy thing to check out that is not on the regular tour is the dining service.

  • While dining, don't sit by yourself! Plunk yourself down next to some current students and talk with them about campus life. The people that you meet as tour guides are usually the campus superstars -- the people that you meet in the dining hall could be anyone.

  • It doesn't matter if you secure admission to the school and then visit, or visit before applying. The school doesn't really care, though some more selective institutions do require an interview as part of their admission process. Many schools, however, do include "demonstrated interest" in the admission decision -- and a campus visit would certainly help indicate demonstrated interest.

  • Another good resource can be found here. The author states:
    Since every college visitor isn't looking for the same thing, the same questions won't work for everyone. The important thing is to ask the questions that deal with your particular needs.

    College is a very large financial commitment. Most folks wouldn't buy so much as a television or stereo without doing significant comparison shopping. Yet, the college decision sometimes gets short changed in favor of more pressing commitments. If you make an effort to get the most out of your college visits, you will have a better chance to get the most of your college experience.

    No comments: