High school seniors, heed this advice: Start visiting colleges this summer.
A campus visit can reinforce or eliminate potential contenders, and taking the time in the summer will be helpful once your senior year gets busy in the fall. Visits provide one of the one of the most important filters for deciding where to spend four years of college.
“It’s really important to get multiple snapshots of a school,” said Nat Smitobol, a master counselor with our firm, a college counseling service.
“I think it’s most important to visit a campus and get a good sense of what a school would be like. It’s really hard to get the feel and culture of a school online.”
A four-hour drive from Connecticut takes a student to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York state and Massachusetts, he said, so students in the Northeast can really explore.
Smitobol recommended that students call schools three weeks in advance to set up college tours, which usually include group information sessions. Sometimes schools will do separate tours for specific majors, he said.
“It is helpful for students not just to tour, but to go and sit in the library or the cafeteria and to watch interactions,” Smitobol said. “You can get a good sense of the culture that way.”
A campus visit can enhance entrance chances, he said.
“Research shows that students who visit a school are more likely to attend,” he said. “In some application processes, admissions officers look to see if a student visited the campus, especially at a small, private, liberal arts college.”
Since 2003, when the Internet became a tool for college searching, there have been an increasing number of what are called “ghost applications,” Smitobol said.
Those are applications from students who never visited the campus or were not on a school mailing list.
In addition, research has shown that students don’t read emails from schools, Smitobol said. Students want to receive their information from social media or they want to look for information, as they do on Facebook, he said, “and not necessarily receive it in the mail.”
We have some questions that students should ask when they tour campuses:
How many students are in introductory and upper-level courses?
Are courses taught by professors or teaching assistants, and what role do teaching assistants play in classes?
How difficult is it to sign up for classes as a freshman, and how much time does a student have to decide on a major before formally declaring?
Are there tutoring and computer labs on campus?
Options for group or individual studying?
Where do freshmen and upperclassmen live?
What are the living arrangements in dorms? Do students move off campus? Is housing guaranteed all four years? If it isn’t, how easy/difficult is it to find on- and off-campus options?
What are meal arrangements?
Regarding campus life, some questions should cover clubs, activities and fraternity/sorority organizations, and even how often students go home on the weekends.
Visitors should ask about research opportunities on campus, if there are jobs on or off campus, what internship opportunities are available and if there are study-abroad programs.
In addition, students should ask about campus safety, and policies and procedures to keep students safe, as well as campus health and wellness resources.
Students from the college are almost always part of the tour.
We urge visitors to ask them about their personal experiences, like choosing a major and spending weekends on campus.
College is a huge financial commitment. The right one can provide a lifelong network of friends and resources.
Do your homework now. The more you can do before senior year begins, the less stress you’ll have and the more thoughtful your decision can be.