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Campus Visits and College Interviews, 2nd Edition
The Campus Visit
DECIDING TO GO
Why You Should Go
Connie, Raul, Jeff, and Mandy, students at different high schools, all shared the same concern: Not one of them had any notion of what a college was actually like. They had read the vital statistics about various colleges in the big, comprehensive directories, looked at college Web sites and brochures to get a sense of the ambience at those colleges, and talked to a few friends about their colleges when they were home on vacation, but they still didn't know what a college was really like or how it felt to be on a campus and away from home.
Connie's first notions of a college came from listening to her sister and her friends talk about their experiences, and each one wanted Connie to apply to the college she was attending. Although each made a good case for the college she had chosen, Connie knew that she needed to check them out for herself since she didn't think that what suited them would necessarily suit her.
Raul, a student at a large metropolitan high school, decided that a college in a small town offered few distractions and would therefore be more conducive to studying. Yet, when he made his visits to the colleges he had chosen, he was struck by how frustrated he felt at not having a wide choice of movies or foreign restaurants nearby. He realized that although the students he met liked the closeness and togetherness of the college environment, he needed the variety of choices available in a larger community. To test out his revised priorities, he embarked on visits to his state university and to smaller urban colleges to see what they would be like.
Jeff, on the other hand, had little idea of what type of college suited him. He thought that a small college would offer him good contact with faculty and he would get to know most, if not all, of the students quite well; but he also imagined that a large university would have a broad range of academic courses and social activities from which to choose. He decided that a serious investigation of different types of colleges was called for so that he could determine what best matched his interests.
Mandy's mother had always spoken enthusiastically about the wonderful education she had received at her women's college, but Mandy resisted the idea of going to a single-sex school. To placate her mother, however, she arranged for a campus visit and interview at her mother's alma mater. Much to her surprise, she found herself talking easily to the admission counselor about her reluctance to go to a women's college and her longtime ambition to become a lawyer. Afterward, Mandy stayed overnight with two sophomores, one from a small town in Georgia and the other from Chicago, talking most of the night about the advantages and the drawbacks of the college. They were frank and funny about a lot of the campus doings. Although Mandy and the two students came from dissimilar backgrounds, she was delighted to find that they shared an interest in mystery novels and funky earrings. The next morning she sat in on two classes and was enthusiastic about the give-and-take of the discussion. Pleased by what she was discovering, Mandy decided to put her mother's college on her own list of schools to consider seriously.
These four students were getting a good start on their college search. Sometimes high school students are so uptight about college that they forget that they control their own choices. Students can, and must, determine for themselves which colleges are best for them, and not choose a college because it is well known or popular. It is essential for students to figure out which colleges match their needs, desires, and aspirations.
Many students still choose colleges that their parents picked out for them or ones closest to home or ones that cousins or friends said were "just great." But it is important to realize that choosing a college is a big decision that will affect lifelong interests, career, and friendships. Students should look for colleges where they can be successful academically, stimulated intellectually, and happy socially—where they can learn, grow, and make friends.
To find the right colleges, students must be good shoppers, especially now when a year at college may cost as much as a new car. Just as no one chooses a car without a test drive, no one should choose a college without a test visit. Looking at Web sites, talking, or thinking about colleges doesn't replace the road test: the campus visit. Visits give students a personal insight into the campus style, student body, social atmosphere, available facilities, and academic dynamics. Visits to a number of colleges make it possible to compare them and to evaluate to what extent they match students' requirements. Visits answer the questions a college shopper should be asking, "What would it be like for me to go to college here?" "Do I fit in?" "Will I feel comfortable and happy here? "Will I get the education that I'm looking for?"
Who Should Go When
Jim and Ann-Li, two junior-year honors students with heavy academic programs, were worried about the timing of their campus visits. Their top-rated colleges weren't holding interviews between January and June, not much would be happening on campuses during the summer, and they weren't sure they could take time out from school the following fall. They talked to their high school counselor who showed them the next year's academic calendar, and they saw that there were four autumn school holidays, including Labor Day, when they could conveniently make campus visits. They compared the colleges' academic calendars and found that the colleges would be in session on those holidays. Aware that campuses are lively places to visit in early fall, and that interview appointments are best booked early at the more selective colleges, Jim and Ann-Li got busy.
Mike, a varsity high school soccer player, hoped he'd make a college team. Since he practiced every day from mid-August through the fall, he had to plan his college trips during his junior year spring vacation or after the soccer season was over. Luckily, when he called for appointments with the coaches, he found that the colleges were in session during his spring holiday, and he would have a chance to talk to players, go to some classes, and have his interviews at the same time.
On the other hand, Liz, a brass player in the school band, waited until her senior year before researching the colleges. When she was a junior, she had gone with the band to Boston, and had briefly ambled around Back Bay and wandered onto a campus. She had liked what she saw, but she knew she would have to devote much more time and energy to serious college visits. She reviewed the band schedule and determined some dates for visits when she wouldn't be involved with rehearsals.
These juniors and seniors were doing sound planning. Each student was devising a schedule appropriate to his or her needs, for there is more than one right time to make campus visits. The one essential factor for upperclass high school students is that the college be in session.
Getting an Early Start
If a high school student lives near a college, it is worthwhile to walk around the campus or perhaps use the college library for study or research. This is especially useful for freshmen and sophomores to get acquainted with the "feel" of a college. Families who are traveling by car on their vacations could use the opportunity to do a drive-through of a nearby college campus just to get a general idea of what a college campus looks like. A student who is doing a summer sport camp on a college campus should use the opportunity to explore any of the buildings and facilities that are open. It is useful on any of these casual visits to go to the admission office to pick up college information: an application form, a course catalog, the newspaper, a schedule of college events. Doing some of these things will give the student an early start and take some of the mystery out of the college process. However, serious, in-depth looks should be saved for the upperclass years.
During School Week
Juniors and seniors must be purposeful college shoppers. They should explore colleges when things are buzzing: when classes are meeting, students are studying, and ordinary day-to-day activities are taking place. This means making visits during the school week.
High School Holidays
Since junior and senior years are also intense academic periods, it is important to balance high school requirements with college trips and schedule visits so that not too many school days are missed. High school holidays are choice opportunities for college visits. National holidays, especially those falling on Mondays when colleges are generally in session, are appropriate times. A good plan is to travel on Sunday and be on campus Monday. If several colleges are on the itinerary, Tuesday and Wednesday could be added. The early part of the week—Monday through Thursday—is ideal for campus visits because things are bustling then. If you are planning to get interviews, make your appointments with the admission office in June or July for the following autumn.
Juniors who have researched the colleges (see Chapter 7, How to "Read" a College Catalog and Chapter 8, How to "Read" a College Web Site) and put in the time to analyze their needs and requirements (see Chapter 12, Putting Your Best Foot Forward) should consider using spring vacation for college visits. Players of fall sports, and students considering early action or early decision with application deadlines in November of their senior year, should use these opportune holidays, but should check well in advance to make certain the colleges are in session and that their admission staffs say it's okay to visit.
Late summer and early September before senior year begins are convenient times to visit since many colleges begin their fall semester as early as mid-August. But generally, fall through winter and sometimes early spring are the seasons when seniors should conduct their major explorations.
Your campus expeditions should determine whether or not you will apply to the colleges, so make your visits before applications are due. Early decision deadlines are usually November 1 or November 15, and sometimes a second early decision deadline in December or January. Most regular decision application deadlines range from January 1 through March of senior year. You must plan accordingly. Colleges that have late spring deadlines may be visited later.
You may decide to postpone visits until after you've received acceptances. Some colleges send acceptance notices as early as March, but many do not mail the letters before April. Keep in mind that if you wait until then you may have only a few weeks from the first week of April (when many decision notices arrive) to May 1 (the reply date specified by most colleges) to make your decision about which college to attend. Delaying your first campus look may put you in a tight bind.
Many colleges invite their accepted candidates to spend a few days on campus before the May 1 reply date to encourage them to enroll. This is a good time to review your opinion about the colleges that have accepted you and to make some in-depth comparisons.
When Not to Go
Steve and two high school friends took the family car on a warm summer Saturday afternoon and drove to the University of Santa Cruz, intending to get an impression of the place. They thought they would look around and talk to students and faculty about the way the college worked, take a look at the dorms, gym, cafeteria, and science labs, and pick up catalogs.
But look was all they could do. The college was shut up tight and all they saw was the outside of buildings and the beautiful campus with its view of Monterey Bay. They had not accomplished their main purpose.
As important as when to visit colleges is when not to visit. It is bad timing to go during reading period or exam week when classes and activities cease and students are too frazzled to pay attention to visitors.
Weekends, though a convenient time for high school students to visit, are days to avoid if you want to see more than the party life of a college. By 4 p.m. on Friday afternoons, admission staff, faculty, and students are keyed up for social activities, and they may seem to be rushing their meetings with you. Visits and interviews are better scheduled for more leisurely days. Few colleges hold Saturday classes, so you won't get much chance to sit in on courses or observe the bustling life of the college. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, a college campus more resembles a deserted park than a lively community of scholars because most students, except for a few in the library, are spending those early weekend hours in a favorite pastime—sleeping.
Don't plan to go Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas week when colleges are closed. Many students leave campus for the fall and spring break, and activities and classes are curtailed. Reading and exam weeks are not good times to visit, nor is late May when many colleges have completed their academic year. As every college organizes its own calendar, it is wise to check out specific dates so that you don't arrive to find the campus deserted. Admission staff may also restrict visits from application deadline date to April when they are evaluating their current crop of applications.
Keep in mind that it is one thing to see a campus on a summer's day when a mere handful of students wander around and only the admission office is open, and quite another to see the full college in action. But if you can only visit campuses during the summer, here are a few things you should do:
• Get acquainted with the admission staff
• Pick up the course catalog and other materials
• Participate in an information session
• Talk to the students you encounter
• Take a guided tour
• Stroll around the campus on your own
Such a visit could be a good beginning for sophomore students to gather impressions, but for rising seniors it is clearly a pale substitute for a visit when classes are in session and all the students are on campus.
It is always best to check your schedule with the admission office before you get too far into planning.
"It'll be great," Ted announced to his best friend. "Scott's up at Colgate and then we'll stay with Lisa at Hamilton, and go on to Syracuse and Cornell. We'll have a blast. Especially if we can get some other guys to go along and share the gas." The plan might have worked out except for one thing: Not one of the boys could convince his parents that it was a good idea. Their parents correctly questioned the usefulness of a trip based mainly on having a good time.
Making campus visits with friends is a fine way to see colleges, but only if several conditions are met. First, don't look at the trip as merely fun; it is a major undertaking, and having fun is a minor consideration. Second, it takes planning and research to bring it off. If you want your parents' approval, you should present them with specific plans and a well thought-out itinerary. That will help them to see the journey as a college shopping trip rather than a wild and woolly road trip. Going with friends has merit if the itinerary of colleges interests the whole group. Anne, for example, wanted to visit Wooster and Denison in Ohio, and her best friend was interested in the University of the South and Vanderbilt in Tennessee. There was no practical reason for these two to journey together. To make going with friends worthwhile, it is essential for you to agree on purpose and destination.
The thought of traveling alone to Northwestern and the University of Chicago gave Nina butterflies in her stomach. She hadn't ever flown alone before, and the thought of trying to get around in a strange city scared her. Her parents thought it would be better to make the trip with someone else, but no one Nina knew was interested. To solve this problem, Nina put a notice on the guidance office bulletin board and found another senior who wanted to make the same journey. Nina's parents also suggested that she call the admission staff who proved most helpful by sending her directions and setting up a host to stay with on campus. The staff person also reassured her about staying with an unknown student host.
There are other partners to team up with to make campus visits. Some colleges, among them Oberlin and Mount Holyoke, sponsor trips from metropolitan areas for in-depth, two-day visits. There are independent businesses that take students on exploratory tours. Enthusiastic parents sometimes drive a caravan of students to a group of colleges. Some colleges, like Amherst, invite alumni children to attend a special meeting with admission staff. Frequently the school band, choral group, or Model United Nations club will visit an area rich in colleges. Students should take advantage of any of these opportunities whenever feasible.
Some colleges—Trinity University in Texas is one—invite groups of prospective candidates to experience a campus visit set up to include a campus tour, classes, interview opportunities, overnight in dorms, admission sessions, and a chance to meet faculty and students. Others have informational open houses with one-day or afternoon programs.
Students often wonder if their parents should go along on campus visits. There are, indeed, advantages to their presence. Parents may lend both emotional and financial support for the venture, and sometimes a more objective view. It is certainly a lot easier to manage a complicated driving schedule with the aid of parents. While your parents do the worrying about arriving on time, you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
When you are interviewing with the admission counselor, your parents can talk with the financial aid officer, or they can walk around the campus and gather impressions to compare later. Parents can play Dr. Watson to your Sherlock Holmes, all of you picking up clues that help determine if the college is a good match. Moreover, admission counselors are generally pleased to meet parents after the interview and answer any questions they may have. When parents go, they should arrange to stay in nearby lodging while you stay overnight on campus.
Cora certainly appreciated having her mother along. With two sisters and one brother, it wasn't often that Cora had her mother all to herself. The long ride from Virginia to colleges in Pennsylvania gave Cora a chance to tell her mother all about her plans and hopes for college. She found that her mother's good humor and reassuring perceptions helped ease her tension about the upcoming interviews. When interview time arrived, her mother quietly left to investigate the library and later told Cora what she had discovered. After Cora's interview, her mother had a chance to ask the counselor her questions about the college.
Of course, you know how well you travel with your own parents. Some young people feel that their parents will take control of the visit and influence their reactions to a college. For others, parents' enthusiasms set off a negative reaction, and the students take an instant dislike to what their parents admire. If you have these kinds of concerns, it's a good idea to air them with your parents before planning a campus visit.
For some students, visiting colleges alone is the first act in the drama of "going away to college." There's a sense of freedom and a spirit of adventure implicit in the journey. For Connie it meant seeing a campus through her own "I's" only. Even though her parents and her friends' opinions were important to her, Connie decided that her college tours were better done alone. She thought it would be easier to have casual conversations with lots of students and tour the campus at her own pace without having a friend or her parents waiting around. She knew she would reflect better on all she had seen if she had time to herself to size things up.
Checklist for Deciding to Go
In fall, winter, early spring, late summer
During high school holidays
When admission staff welcomes visit
When college is not in session
During exam or reading week
When admission office is closed
Colleges are in session
Students are available;
classes are meeting You won't miss school Good reception
Adventure, independent look,
freedom Emotional and financial support,
second opinion Share experiences,
companionship Prearranged by leader,
Campus is deserted Students are busy Limited academic activity Counselors aren't available
Copyright © 2002 by Zola Dincin Schneider. All rights reserved.