It’s Time to Start Visiting Colleges: Plan that Road Trip

By Sam Rosensohn

It’s an ideal time for juniors to start thinking about visiting some colleges; final exams are just over, and the days – believe it or not – are growing longer.

A smart college visit is a must, particularly since 25 percent of the students who enter a four-year college do not return for their sophomore year.

Taking a campus tour, attending a class, eating a meal in the cafeteria, and reading the school newspaper is a good start.

You might also consider asking your guidance counselor to put you in touch with students who currently or recently attended the colleges you’re serious about.

If it turns out that you can’t identify anyone who’s attending or has attended a particular school, call the admissions office of that particular school and ask them to connect you with a student or an alumnus from your neck of the woods.

College admissions counselors will also tell you about open houses, weekly visits, campus tours, information sessions, as well as classes you might want to observe.

If you call ahead, admissions can suggest classes to observe, and maybe even arrange an appointment with a faculty member, a coach, or an overnight stay in one of the dorms. They’ll send you everything from parking permits for when you get on campus to information about area lodging.

Many schools offer an interview with an admissions counselor. You don’t want to miss that opportunity, and while you’re doing that your parents can meet with a financial aid officer. Schools put a big emphasis on the amount of contact you have with them.

This happens to be one of the best times for visiting schools. The semester is just underway and it’s not close to finals. As finals approach everything starts to amp up and you won’t witness a routine day. Before visiting, learn everything you can about the school through the Internet, catalogs, and reference books. And when you get on campus, make a point of doing the official tour as well as the unofficial tour.

The unofficial tour would be you nosing around on your own or with a friend to discover what interests you most. Introduce yourself to students on campus and ask them what they like and don’t like about school. You’re trying to get a sense of what the place is like and whether you could imagine living and going to school there for four years. Sometimes it takes a couple of visits.

Take notes. By the time you’re done visiting the fifth school: cafeterias, dorms, dropout rate, and initial impressions start to blend. Some students find that taking photos helps them to remember more about their visits.

These are some questions drawn from The National Survey of Student Engagement at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning that you might want answered:

What does the faculty expect of students?

How does the faculty challenge students to leave their comfort zone and excel?

How much homework do students have a week on average?

How much writing and reading is assigned per class?

What are exams like?

What ways are students given to express themselves creatively?

How and when do students declare their majors, and can they be self-designed?

How much help do students receive preparing for the workforce after college?

Do your alumni actively help students to find work?

What types of internships are available and are they required to graduate?

How many courses require community service?

How often do students meet with faculty outside of class?

What percentage of the student body does research with faculty?

What percentage of the freshman class doesn’t return sophomore year?

What does the school do to promote student-faculty interaction?

How often do students get feedback from their professors?

What evidence is there to demonstrate that teaching is important to professors?

What percentage of the student body studies in foreign countries?

What are the student organizations on campus?

What leadership opportunities are available?

What do students like and dislike about the campus?

What type of support services (academic and non-academic) are available?

What do students tend to do on the weekends and what percentage commute?

Where do students come from in the U.S., and from how many foreign countries?

How is technology used in the classroom, and what technological resources are available to students?

What types of athletic and intramural activities are available?

What kinds of musical, performing and fine art events come to campus?

What types of summer internships or summer classes are available?

What types of honors courses, learning communities, weekend or night programs, or other unique academic offerings are available?

What types of financial aid and scholarships are available? What percentages of students work on and off campus?

How extensive is the library service?

What has the school done to ensure student safety?

What types of health and counseling services are in place for students?

What sororities and fraternities are on campus and what percentage of the student body belongs to one?

Where do students live and what are the different kinds of residences and campus housing available?

Where do students eat and how flexible are the meal plans?

After you get a handle of what’s on campus, go explore what’s off campus. If you make the right decision, you’ll be there for four years.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com