Weekly College Column

Thinking more deeply about campus visits …


Today’s column is written by my good friend and professional colleague, Marla Platt, MBA of AchieveCoach College Consulting, a college consultant based in Sudbury, MA. For over 14 years, Marla has supported hundreds of students and parents through group sessions, blog content, and personalized guidance on the college search, essay, interview, and application process. You can reach Marla at marla@achievecoach.com or achievecoach.com

Junior spring semester is here, and that means the college timeline is “getting real.”  School breaks and spring days are on the calendar, so it’s time to get out there and explore colleges.

With a solid college list in hand, there is nothing like a feet-on-the-ground look at at least a few campuses of interest, whether it means checking out those located near home or heading out on the road. Learning about colleges means exploring below the surface.  While it is tempting to focus mainly on cool buildings and facilities featured on campus tours, a worthwhile college visit goes deeper.  Time well spent on campus means identifying specifics about how and why a school fits an applicant’s individual interests, goals, and vibe.

Before setting out to tour schools, take the time to do some initial investigation via the college’s website; YouTube channel; Instagram; etc.  A few minutes of preliminary groundwork to plan ahead for what you most want to see is of greatest interest and will help any visitor get the most out of tours and information sessions. Students should arrive ready to listen and learn as much as possible about academic programs; internship opportunities;  application timelines; clubs; social activities; hot issues on campus; and more.

Looking Within

During the campus tour, definitely look around, but also look within. Can you envision yourself living and learning at this college?  Take some time to consider the students attending the school. How about hanging out on the weekends with these future classmates? Consider location.  Over the long term, is it realistic for you to travel to and from this school, possibly eight times per year, between school semesters and breaks? 

Above all, is the cost to attend this school in line with your available finances? Next, create a vision of yourself at this college by considering specifics personal to you:

  • Thinking realistically about the student population, how would I engage in classroom learning?  Am I able to focus on material presented in large auditorium lecture halls?
  • If considering a smaller school, is the breadth of studies sufficient for my potential interests? Is there enough for me to engage with, on or off campus, over the next four years?
  • What kind of community engagement am I looking for in college?  What do I want to be similar to – or different from – my high school experience?
  • If I have any special needs, how will that school’s resources support my success?

Beyond the Tour

Even the most engaging of college tours may not bring you to every significant corner of campus. Include time to go slightly “off the grid” and check out other important features of a school, including:

  • a typical freshman dorm
  • library or study space facilities
  • writing or Academic Resource Center, a useful tool starting freshman year
  • a taste of dining hall food.  Are there healthy options that fit your needs?
  • a stop  at the Career Center

After the Tour

The most valuable step a student can make is to record their takeaways following their campus visit.  What areas of study have piqued your interest? What else stands out? Who else can you speak with to learn even more about this school?

Campus visits are valuable learning experiences, even if some of the schools do not ultimately land on the final go-to list.  By comparing and contrasting schools and how they match up with needs and preferences, students and parents can be assured that a carefully crafted list of good-fit colleges will begin to emerge!

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com


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