The Campus Visit

Posted By: Lisa Cynamon Mayers, Senior Admissions Consultant

Although I think it best to visit colleges while school is in session, summer is an easy time to schedule visits. You won’t worry about falling behind in calculus or missing the big game. You’ll also find yourself more likely to be traveling in general.  This presents a great opportunity to schedule a visit while you’re out of town. Even if you’re only a freshman or sophomore, if you find yourself in a town with a college, go take a look. Get some experience touring, chatting and learning about college life.  Visiting helps you hone your preferences so that when the time comes to make The College List, you’ll be ready.

Some tips to get you started:

Prior to Arrival

Research – Before you make hotel reservations and start buying plane tickets, spend time doing some serious research. Visiting colleges takes time, money, enthusiasm and a sense of humor. It would be impossible to visit every college you are remotely considering, so get organized, do your research and visit those schools that will help you reach your ultimate goal — admission to your first choice school.

Where To Visit, Part 1– If you are considering applying to any school early decision, you must plan a visit to campus. How can you sign on the dotted line that you will attend this school, if admitted, when you’ve never even seen the place?

Where To Visit, Part 2 – If you are undecided and overwhelmed by all of the college options available to you, it can help to visit a few schools to get a sense of what you like/dislike. Visiting a large state school, a small liberal arts college and an urban campus can give you different pictures of what college can be like. Even if you ultimately decide against applying to any of these schools you visited for research purposes, the time will be well spent if the visits help you determine the places you
would like to be.

Schedule Your Visit, Part 1 – Contact the admission office, via the phone or web, to schedule your visit. Admission offices want to know that you are coming to visit so they can help you make the most of your visit. It would be a shame to plan an entire visit and not realize the admission office is closed for the day. Plan ahead!

Schedule Your Visit, Part 2 – It is best to visit campus when school is in session and students are not frantically preparing for final exams. Summer is a popular time to visit colleges, but remember that the campus won’t be buzzing with normal activities or current students over the summer months.

Coordinate Multiple Visits – Let’s say you’ve decided to visit Ultimate University, your first choice school. It would be smart while you’re in Ultimate City, or on your way to Ultimate City (if you’re driving), to also visit a couple other schools. Make the most of your travels and try to see as many schools as you can, especially for comparison sake.

The Campus Visit

Information Session – Generally schools offer a group session in which an admission counselor (and sometimes a faculty member and current student) discusses basic information about the school. The presentation is often followed by a question-and- answer session so it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the school.

Tour – Typically tours are given by current students. Depending on the size of the campus, the tour can last anywhere from 45 minutes to well over two hours. This is your best opportunity to get a guided tour of the school. You might even have the chance to see residence halls and dining facilities.

Interview – Some schools offer prospective freshmen (that’s you) the chance to interview during a campus visit. Determine if you can interview while you are on campus and knock out a couple of birds with one stone.

Observing Classes – You might be thinking why on earth would I want to sit in on a class when I’ve planned this whole trip to get out of going to class. Point well taken, but don’t you want to get a glimpse of what college classes will be like? You don’t have to stay for the entire class — sit in the back and try to observe for a short time. Note the interaction between students and faculty and get a feel for college classes.

Food – Explore the different on-campus food options. You’ll probably end up visiting over lunch or dinner anyway, so you may as well try out the food while you’re there. Some schools will even give you a meal on them. Who can pass up free food?

Staying Overnight – Schools are going to have widely varying policies on the overnight visit. If you know a current student and can stay with a friend while you’re visiting, that’s always a good idea. Also, you may be able to arrange a visit through the admission office. The overnight visit is one of the best ways to really and truly experience a school. You’ll get to see the campus without parents and get a feel for what “real” students do.

Special Visit Days/Weekends – Almost every college and university offers special visit days/weekends. This can be a great time to visit campus. Just think, you’ll get to meet tons of potential classmates. Pay attention to your mail and to the school’s websites for information about these special open houses.

A Smart Decision by Harvard

I'm glad to hear that Harvard took this decisive step. As a professional who has worked with a number of highly accomplished kids who did not get accepted to Harvard, I can't help but feel for them as those coveted Harvard spots were taken up by students who, at a minimum, participated in such stupid and and just plain wrong behavior.  As a parent, I want to immediately remind  my own teenage children that their actions both online and off, have big consequences - for themselves and for those they may be harming.

Letters of Recommendation

Which Teachers Should I Ask? 
By Becky Georgenes  - Senior College Counselor, Road to College.  Former Princeton Univ. Admission Officer. 

Juniors:  As you are buckling down, preparing for final exams, there is one thing you shouldn't forget about - Letters of Recommendation. 

Most selective colleges want to see two letters of recommendation from teachers of Core subjects (Math, Science, Social Studies, English, or even Foreign Language). You don't have to decide yet, but it's a good idea to ask at least one teacher before the summer. Pick someone you have had for a teacher during your Junior year, a teacher who perhaps knows you better than most - maybe because you always go for extra help, or because this teacher also coaches a sport you play or advises a club you participate in.  Popular teachers get asked to write a lot of letters of recommendation - so be sure that he or she can say something unique about you. Many will ask you to fill out a form or perhaps write a couple paragraphs about yourself as a student. Even if they don't, you might want to provide them with a resume or a brief letter about what is important to you as a student and a person. Some teachers like to work on their letters of recommendation over the summer, so be sure that they have your contact information. 

Once senior year begins, you should quickly pick a second teacher to write a letter for you. If you happen to have a teacher that you have had earlier in High School, that could be a strong possibility. If it is a teacher who is brand new for you, just be sure you use every opportunity to get to know this teacher well right from the start. 

You should also think about subject matter when you are choosing your teachers. If you are planning to major in Math in college, then it makes sense for one of the teachers to be a math teacher. You should, however, consider asking an English or History teacher to write the other letter for you. Even if it is a subject that you are struggling in, if you have demonstrated extra determination, effort, or growth, that teacher still may be able to write a strong and supportive letter on your behalf. 

And finally, if you aren't sure which teachers you should ask, get some input from your guidance counselor. While you aren't able to read the letters of recommendation, your guidance counselors can. They will know which teachers do an especially good job in letter writing!