March 21, 2012

Visiting colleges

Recently, I have been busy planning my summer travel - every summer I return to the U.S. to participate in professional development conferences like HECA and OACAC, as well as take the opportunity to visit college campuses. Nothing is better than visiting a college in person to get a sense of what the school is like, and I highly encourage students to do so. Of course, as international students visiting a U.S. or Canadian college during the school year is more difficult, so if your family's summer travel plans include the U.S. or Canada, try to fit in a college visit as well.

Now that I visit on average 15 colleges and universities a year, I definitely know how to make the most out of my visit. Here are my top four tips that I wish I knew when I was in high school!

  1. Having a worksheet to take notes during the visit not only helps you to remember pertinent points about the school, it can also help you to more easily compare schools after you are done with all of your visits. Here is my free downloadable college research worksheet
  2. Take pictures throughout the campus tour (including a photo of the college sign or banner) so that the photos can later remind you about your impressions on campus. I really regret not taking a photo of signs posted by the facilities manager at St. Olaf. The signs, with messages along the lines of "Let's keep this building the coolest place on campus by closing the doors after you enter so that the air conditioning isn't wasted." made me think that if the facilities managers had such a great sense of humor, the school administration must also overall be responsive to students.
  3. Contact the admissions office ahead of time so that you know when campus tours are scheduled and so that you can arrange meetings with actual students and professors. College campuses can have a very different atmosphere during the summer, when most students are away, so you'll want to maximize your opportunities to meet people affiliated with the school.
  4. Allow yourself plenty of time (at least half a day) to visit the school so that you get a good sense of its atmosphere and programs. You want to make sure you don't miss out on formal activities like taking part in a information session given by the admissions office and going on a campus tour, because you have to catch a plane. You'll also want to allow time to take part in informal activities like dining in the cafeteria (do you like the food?), read the bulletin boards to see what kind of notices and flyers interest you, and checking out the adjacent neighborhood. See if you can imagine yourself living and studying at that school.
For more advice on how to make the most of a college visit, check out the National Association of College Admissions Counseling's articles, the College Visit and the College Visit Checklist.