Senior year of high school can feel like a whirlwind.
For me, it was about eight years ago now, and I still remember the feelings well.
Friends start to get their college acceptance letters and make other post-graduation plans. Deadlines for final essays and projects are approaching way too quickly. Emotions roller-coaster from excitement for a new chapter to heartbreak as social groups begin to fray to general fears of the unknown.
And to top it off, weekends typically spent unraveling and relaxing are now usually reserved for college visits.
When I decided on my school (Utica College), I hadn’t stepped foot on campus once. At the end of August, I was on my way to an orientation for a school I’d never been to. Risky? Absolutely. But fortunately I was lucky and loved my school.
But, thinking back, I wonder if I would have ended up in Utica had I visited more schools.
So, I reached out to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Albany and Hudson Valley Community College for some advice on making college visits effective.
Here’s everything I wish I knew.
Importance of college visits
The bottom line is all schools look great on paper – but not every school is a good fit for every student.
“You can look at websites, viewbooks and other online resources, but naturally, an institution puts its best foot forward in print and online,” said Tim Lee, UAlbany’s director of undergraduate admissions. “When you visit a campus, you’ll have that ‘A-ha!’ moment. You’ll see that wow factor.”
What to look for in a college
With so many options it can be difficult to decide which colleges you’ll spend your time visiting.
So it’s a good time to do some serious thinking, according to Hudson Valley Community College’s Communications and Marketing Specialist Teresa Farrell.
“I would say students should do some self-reflection on what kind of things they want out of their own college experience in an abstract and a concrete sense,” Farrell said. “That can mean everything from academics, campus life, sports and activities to a general feel of the types of experiences they want their college experience to include.”
Here are some things she said students should consider:
- Does the college have the academic programs the student is interested in? How about internships and industry connections?
- What are the faculty and staff like? Do professors seem to be available outside of class to help students who need it? How about opportunities for mentorship?
- Do they have a good structure in place for transfer agreements/employment opportunities?
- Financially, what is the range the family is willing to spend? How are they going to cover the cost? What kind of financial aid will the school offer? What is the student eligible for?
- Does the college have clubs, activities or sports that the student is interested in?
- Does the school offer support services such as academic, health and wellness that would be relevant to the student?
Questions to ask
If you’re visiting a college and participating in a campus tour, many of the basic questions will probably be answered. And, if you do some research beforehand, you can already familiarize yourself with things like the size of the school, majors offered, the types of clubs students can join.
“Spend your precious time on campus asking things you cannot find on a school’s website,” said Heather D. Hansen, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Ask students about their experiences. Stay away from questions like, ‘How is your engineering program?’ Do some research and be able to ask more specific, insightful questions while on campus.”
And do a little people-watching, Lee said.
“I always tell folks to go over to the school’s campus center, buy a cup of coffee and something light to eat and sit and observe,” he said. “You’ll notice the types of students that attend the institution and get an unfiltered look into the campus.”
“It’s also a good idea to check out the town/surrounding area,” Hansen added.
Whether you’re visiting multiples schools in a weekend or several during a season, don’t rely on your memory.
“Take pictures with your smart phone,” Lee suggested. “Take notes if you’re attending a presentation. While you might be able to visualize some specific parts of your trip, it could get lost if you visit five colleges in a weekend. Record notes or take notes while you’re on campus.”
And if the sun isn’t shining, don’t fret.
“Don’t let weather deter a visit,” he said. “Everyone would love an 80-degree day with no clouds in the sky, but if it’s raining or snowing, you may not get the best sense of the campus. Keep an open mind.”
Alissa Scott is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY. She loves to go camping in the Adirondacks, DIY projects and her cat, Wednesday Addams.