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From Rob Franek, Author of
The Princeton Review Book,
The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition
(Random House / The Princeton Review,
On Sale August 5, 2014)
I've visited hundreds of colleges over my 21-year career in higher education. As author of the Princeton Review's annual Best Colleges book, I currently visit about 50 campuses a year. And as a former college admissions counselor, I've also been on the welcoming side of hundreds of campus visits by prospective students and their parents.
Here are seven tips for making the most of your college visits.
1. Plan ahead, part I. Check out the school's academic calendar: on its website. Plan to visit when classes are in session. Mondays through Thursdays are best. Avoid final exam and "reading" weeks.
2. Plan ahead, part II (most-overlooked "to do” item). Make sure a representative of the college will be available to meet with you. Contact the admissions office (the earlier, the better) to let them know you plan to visit. Schedule an appointment with an admissions counselor, not only to learn about the school but also to let the school about your interest in it. Many colleges track students' levels of interest in their college: you definitely want them to know you've traveled to the campus.
3. Be a virtual visitor first. If you're not already following the schools you're considering on Twitter, start today! Visit each college's website to see what resources are posted for prospective visitors. Some sites have campus webcams on which you can watch what's happening in central areas in real time. Others offer virtual tours, informational videos, and photo libraries. And while you're on the website, read the student newspaper and see what's happening on campus in advance.
4. Be cheesy: take photos. Granted, you may not want to look like a camera-toting tourist but the truth is you are touring the campus so make the most of it. You'll appreciate those photos months later when memories of your various campus visits begin to blur. You can also share them with other students from your high school who haven’t visited that campus but are interested in it. Your high school college advisor will appreciate seeing them as well.
5. Be a Chatty Cathy (or Charlie). Talk with students attending the college wherever you can find them willing to chat. Tell them you’re visiting and ask if they have one minute to tell you two things about the school: one thing they like and one they don't. Most will welcome the chance to share their opinions. I guarantee you'll learn much more than two things about the school. And on this topic: we did some of this homework for you. We asked students at the 379 colleges in our book how they felt about their schools. Over 130,000 of them answered 80 questions on our survey for this book and we used all their campus feedback on these schools to tally our 62 ranking lists in this book and to create our school profiles.
6. Go beyond the obvious. By all means take the official campus tour, attend a class, eat in the dining hall. But get off the beaten path, too. Explore areas on campus not on the tour. Visit the bookstore and browse the textbook selections. Read what's on bulletin boards on campus. They will reveal a lot about the school culture.
7. Go beyond the campus: check out the town. Remember: your college will be your home away from home for four years. Allow time on your visits to mosey around the town or city. Find out about area attractions, restaurants, and shops. Listen to the locals. Ask how the college's students interact with the community. Do they volunteer? Hold part-time jobs?
And on the subject of home away from home, here's a fun fact from an annual survey we do that you may find strikes … well, close to home.
One of the questions we ask applicants and their parents in our "College Hopes & Worries Survey" is this: "How far from home would the ideal college for you/your child be?" We give them four answer choices. In our 2014 survey of about 14,000 parents and teens, the majority (52%) of parents selected the answer "less than 250 miles" the shortest possible distance. The majority (63%) of students selected answer choices of more than 250 miles away. Among that student cohort, 35% preferred a college 500+ miles from home and 15% wanted a college 1,000+ miles from home.
I wish all of you happy college visits and happy homecomings!
About Rob Franek
Rob Franek, author of The Best 379 Colleges and Senior VP/Publisher at the Princeton Review, oversees a line of 150 titles that includes study aid books and guides to standardized tests, colleges and graduate schools. Prior to joining the Princeton Review in 1999, Rob was a college admissions administrator at Wagner College (New York) for six years. He has appeared on NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, and been interviewed on NPR discussing this book. He has also been sourced on college topics by publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Huffington Post. Rob is a graduate of Drew University.