by Liz Jackson
Whether you are going along on a college visit with an older sibling or just trying to get a head start on the college research process, there can be lots of benefits to seeing colleges early in your high school years. Check out these 5 tips for how to get the most out of these visits!
- Take notes: One of the best pieces of advice that I give to students who are visiting colleges is to write down notes about what you just learned about a college as soon as you get back in your car after the tour. It’s amazing how, particularly if you are visiting several colleges in one trip, your memories of the campuses you saw can blend together. Making sure that you write down your impressions of the colleges you see–what you liked and didn’t like, and also your general feedback about how well a college fits you–will ensure that you can come back to that information later, and that you have an accurate representation of how you felt about a college when you were there.
- Pay Attention to more than just buildings: College tours do a terrific job of highlighting the beautiful buildings that are often the centerpieces of their campuses. While it can be tempting to judge a college based on its architecture, remember that what happens inside the buildings is probably going to have a much bigger impact on your experience in college than what the buildings look like from the outside. In addition to paying attention to your reactions to the look and feel of the campuses, make sure to dig into the college’s academic programs, residential life policies, array of extracurricular activities or athletics programs, and the opportunities students have outside of their classes for things like research, study abroad, or Greek life.
- Keep an Open Mind: Often, your first college visits in 9th or 10th grade aren’t terribly purposeful. You might be tagging along with a sibling who is visiting colleges they have already researched online, or be visiting a college while a parent attends a conference in a cool city. So, it’s possible that you are touring a college that you might not be super excited about. But, it’s important to keep an open mind. In my nearly fifteen years of college counseling experience, I have often found that students are surprised–sometimes pleasantly, sometimes unpleasantly–by colleges they see in person. Particularly if you are touring a college that doesn’t strike you as all that great, reframe your approach. As you listen to your tour guide and look around the campus, think about which kind of students WOULD be good fits at this college–even if they aren’t students like you. The most important part of any college visit is the feedback you have about it–what things you liked, what things you didn’t. This feedback helps you shape your own college list, once the time comes, and makes you more confident in your opinions about what kinds of colleges will best fit you,
- Interact with students: One of the very best ways to get to know a college is to interact with students. In most cases, your tour guide will be a current student, and you should feel free to ask that person any questions you have. But I also recommend talking to other students you run into, maybe in the student union area or even just walking around campus. It can be awkward, but stopping people who look like undergrads and asking them if they could tell you what they like best about their school can give you really useful pieces of information, beyond what might have been discussed on the tour!
- Follow up appropriately: Hopefully you collected some notes and have a lot of “food for thought” after your first campus visits. Maybe after seeing a number of large universities, you are now wondering whether a smaller school with more interaction between students and professors would fit you better. Maybe you LOVED one of the schools you saw, and think it could be a great place for you to spend four years. Whatever your impressions, you should use them and follow up appropriately. Odds are, your high school guidance department has a lot of great college guides, and there are lots of resources available online, too. These are places where you can continue your college research. Fell in love with a mid-sized urban college you saw? See if you can find more schools like that to keep learning about them. Thinking after seeing schools within driving distance that you’d like to go further from home? Start looking at college websites for schools in a different part of the country. One of my favorite sayings is that “there is no such thing as a bad college visit.” In other words, the more you research colleges, the better. And bravo to you for getting an early start!
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