Admit It! You and your family are gearing up for a spring break college road trip with an overly ambitious plan to visit [insert ridiculous number of colleges here] in [insert impossibly small number of days here]. And no those weren’t typos, just an acknowledgment that each family has its own ambitious goal of visiting more colleges than there are days in a specified amount of time. By the time the last tour ends you may feel more overwhelmed than when you began. Here are some tips for making the most out of a prospective student campus visit.
- Attend an official information session and tour. Go right to the source. Attend an information session and learn how to complete the application and how your application will be reviewed. Take the tour. Listen to a current student discuss his/her experience. Certainly some families are wary of official campus visits believing that admission deans and tour guides are simply just mouth pieces hired to pay lip service to the college. While admission offices will certainly do everything in their power to provide an exciting and informative campus visit they will train their tour guides to be honest. In fact, many tour guides are volunteers. W&M’s are; so they are not getting paid to give you a tour. So while you can certainly expect the official campus visit to be full of wonderful commentary on the institution, do not dismiss it outright as worthless platitudes.
- Attend a class or speak with faculty. Many colleges will provide some opportunity for you to interact with faculty whether that’s attending an actual class or speaking with professors from various academic departments. Don’t believe a campus tour is as far as your visit can go.
- Eat in a dining hall. You can absolutely ask about the food but you can also try it for yourself. Eating in a dining hall also provides a great opportunity for you to interact with current students.
- Explore the town. You will be living in this area for four years. Is this a place you can see yourself being comfortable? Is this an area you feel you can navigate? Do the off-campus options provide resources for eating, entertainment, shopping?
- See what events are going on on campus during your visit and attend them. The best way to get a taste of campus life is to spend a day on campus doing what current students do such as attending class, eating on campus and attending evening gatherings. See what academic and social outlets are offered on campus in a given evening. Whether it’s a sporting event, concert, academic lecture or Greek-life fundraiser, attend what you can and immerse yourself in the student culture.
- Stop current students and talk to them. This is a must, especially for those more wary of the official campus tour. Stopping current students you see on campus and asking them questions will provide you with a variety of perspectives on the institution. Look for common themes, praises and criticisms.
- Go with your gut. On every campus you should do a gut check. As non-scientific as that may sound, you’ll know when you’ve landed on a campus that’s a good fit. Trust your instincts. There are some campuses you’ll set foot on and know in the first five minutes that they’re not for you (this actually happened when I set foot on the campus that was my first choice on paper). On others you’ll just get that butterflies-in-your-stomach type of good vibe that tells you this place is it.
While high school is an incredibly busy time and finding time to visit campuses is not always easy, it is incredibly important. Don’t rush it. When possible, dedicate an entire day to each campus you visit so that you can truly get the sense of what that institution has to offer. You wouldn’t select a spouse based on one two-hour interaction so don’t pick a college based on a two-hour information session and tour. Slow down, relax and make a couple of additional trips if need be. Enjoy this experience. It will teach you a lot about yourself and will help you make one of the most important decisions of your life.
Wendy Livingston, ’03, M.Ed. ’09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission