Weekly College Column

Make the most of campus visits

Besides a home purchase, a college education is the single largest expense and investment you’ll likely ever make. Just as you would never think to buy a home sight unseen, selecting a college shouldn’t be made solely on information gathered from a guidebook, a Web site or a school’s reputation. Seeing a college in the flesh, walking around the campus, getting a feel for the college culture and talking to students will enrich your decision-making process.

A campus visit usually has two or three parts: an information session, a tour and possibly an interview. The information session will answer questions about the student population, academic life, student life and the admissions process. Campus tours are usually guided by a student, so it’s a great time to get a student’s perspective of the school. Smaller colleges encourage interviews; many larger colleges don’t have the capacity to offer interviews to all prospective students.

Here’s how you can make the most of your visits:

  • Plan ahead. Call the Admissions Office to schedule your visit. If possible, go when classes are in session. You’ll want to see the crowds between classes. An empty campus is not very appealing. Be aware that spring break is a popular time to visit, and some schools have limited space for their information sessions.
  • Dress appropriately. Most tours will take place regardless of the weather, so be prepared. Don’t forget an umbrella. If it’s too hot, it makes great shade. If it’s rainy, you’ll stay dry. Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be walking across campus.
  • Document your trip. Take notes from each session. Bring a camera. It will help you remember the schools when you return.
  • Grab a campus newspaper. Read through the latest issue, find out the hot topics on campus, check out what people do for entertainment.
  • Tune in to campus radio. It’s a great way to investigate the range of musical tastes, politics and cultural opportunities.
  • Sit in on a class. Make arrangements ahead of time. Research the online syllabus, e-mail the professor requesting permission and arrive early to introduce yourself.
  • Ask questions. Wander around. Ask students, not guides, what they love about their school, what’s the one thing they would change and why they chose this college.
  • Eat on campus. Try the cafeteria food and talk to students there.
  • Check out dorms. Try to see a freshman dorm room that wasn’t shown on the tour.
  • Stay in touch. Make sure to get the business cards of anyone you meet — admissions officers, professors, even tour guides. Send them thank-you notes and keep in touch.

Next week: What parents can do to help.

College Tour Tips

  • Try not to be judgmental. Don’t hate or love a school because the food was terrible or you had a fabulous tour guide.
  • Do your homework at home, and ask good questions when you’re on campus. Don’t ask questions you can find out from the Web.
  • Look for consistency in the message presented. Ask the same question of several people

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