Guest Blogger Jessica Fowle:
One of the most fun aspects of the college search (other than the whole this is the big step toward independence thing) is visiting different college campuses. In the admission brochures and on the websites, the sun is always shining, students and professors are always working in happy collaboration, and all the facts and figures are laid out nicely. Well, of COURSE colleges aren’t going to show you the rainy days with a professor having an off day teaching cranky students, just like I don’t post a picture of my kitchen sink full of dirty dishes while all my kids are crying and I am frowning. Everyone knows that those things happen (on campus and, let’s be real, in my kitchen) but nobody wants to see them profiled in a glossy magazine!
In the college search, it’s important to do research about institutions, gathering information on their academic offerings and educational mission, the size and location, the academic profile, etc, but it is essential that if at all possible, you spend some time on the campuses as well. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of your “gut feeling” about the place. The place you attend college will be your home for four (sometimes five or six!) years, so it’s important that you feel personal chemistry with the community.
Not sure where to start? Here are some tips:
Check out colleges and universities close to home
- I know, I know, right in your own backyard? That doesn’t sound as adventurous and intriguing as University of Hawaii!! Relax, my friend. Visiting local colleges and universities is cheap, easy to work into your busy schedule, and can give you a feel for what is out there in college-land. In Kalamazoo, we are lucky enough to have Western Michigan University, a large public research institution, Kalamazoo College, a small private liberal arts college, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, a well-respected community college all within a few miles of each other. Even if you have no interest in any of these specific schools, you can easily get a feel for what these types of institutions have to offer and whether or not you like them. Then you can decide from a more informed perspective how to invest your time and money into more far-flung institutions. And hey, who knows? You may even fall in love with a place that’s been right under your nose!
Going on vacation? Traveling to a soccer tournament? Visiting Grandma? Ask Google if there is a college nearby!
- Adding on to an already existing trip (taking a slightly earlier arrival flight or slightly later departure, taking a small detour) can be a really cost-effective way to visit some of the more far-flung colleges.
- Many sports tournaments, competitions, and summer camps are held on or near college campuses. Try to make time while you are there to take a campus tour. Tours are usually only an hour to an hour and a half long, so you may even be able to squeeze it in between games or debate rounds!
- Ask the people you are planning to visit if there are any colleges or universities nearby that they would recommend. Just like asking for a restaurant recommendation from a local, you may discover a hidden gem.
Do you know EXACTLY where you want to go to college, but you can’t afford to visit before you apply?
- Call the Admission Office at your dream school. Explain the situation and ask if there are any fly-in visit programs or travel subsidies offered. Keep in mind that these programs are often in high demand, so give them a call and get the information early, and then make sure you are submitting any information they require on time. This is a good warm-up for actually applying to college—pay attention to deadlines and submit all the required information.
- What is it about your dream school that makes it a love match? Location (urban, suburban, rural)? Size of the student body? Facutly:student ratio? Educational philosophy? Level of school spirit? Specific academic program? Think about which qualities make that dream school your number one, and identify some colleges and universities that are closer to home that share some of those characteristics and visit them first. This can be a great way to experience whether or not what you love in theory is still appealing in practice. Perhaps the large school in the middle of an urban area seems awesome until you are sitting in a lecture hall and having trouble hearing the professor because of all the traffic noise coming off the street. The little details can help you hone in on the best fit for you.
Come up with at least one or two questions to ask on your tour.
- I have supervised tour guides for 9 years, and one of their most common wishes is that more people would ask questions on their tours so that it feels a little more interactive and personal.
- Of course you should feel comfortable asking questions as they occur to you while the tour is underway. However, it makes sense to think ahead and have a few interesting questions in your back pocket, ready for a response to the inevitable query from your tour guide, “Does anybody have any questions?” Here are a few to get you started:
What is one place on campus that is not on the tour that you think I should check out?
What is your favorite thing about the community off campus? Is there a place I should visit while I am in town?
If you could change one thing about this school, what would it be?
What is your favorite creative food combo in the cafeteria?
Take a few minutes to write up some notes at the end of each campus tour. Believe me, they will start to blend together after a while, and what was a crystal clear memory on your mid-winter break tour junior year gets a little vague by the time you’re filling out the application. Make some of your commentary a little more interesting, which will help to keep that vivid picture in your mind:
- Cool/quirky campus tradition
- Special event that happens on campus that you could picture yourself attending
- Fun fact about the tour guide
Most of all, have fun! College campuses are absolutely beautiful, so soak it all in! Take some time before or after your tour to wander around the campus in an unstructured manner, and try to picture yourself as a college student there.
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