The campus visit is all about first impressions. Students often look around the campus and ask themselves:
"Do the students here look like me?"
"Will I fit in?
"Are the facilities updated and in good condition?"
"Am I getting a vibe that makes me feel connected to this place?"
It's all too easy, but not recommended, to be anonymous when you visit colleges. While campus visits are mainly a time for the college to sell you on its virtues, with a little effort you can personalize your visit and walk away with a much more informed impression.
So what else can you do to make the most of your upcoming campus visits?
Do your homework before you visit: Don't waste your time or the college's time. Make sure every college you visit is worthy. Determine whether you feel comfortable with the school academically; do they have a wide range of majors and minors that interest you? Is this a place where you will be challenged but not overwhelmed?
Take advantage of being in the driver's seat: Colleges are all about getting you to apply to increase the size of their applicant pool. You can count on the admissions office painting an idyllic picture of life on its campus. Make colleges earn the privilege of making it to your final list. Ask questions that challenge them to dig a little deeper.
Sit in on a class, talk with a counselor in the career center, meet with a professor or coach: These kinds of activities allow you to get to know the college on a much more intimate level. After having any of these experiences students frequently walk away from a campus visit knowing they either love or hate the college.
Grab a cup of coffee with current students: Sitting down with students and chatting is a great way to gain a better understanding of the college. Ask them: "What do you like best/worst about your college?" "Where else did you apply/get accepted?" "Why did you choose to come here?" "What do you do on a typical weekend?" Current students are almost always willing to share their insights. Students have frequently shared with me that these conversations had more of an impact than anything else.
Spend the night in a dorm: If your child has friends at the college, it's easy to make arrangements. If you don't know any current students and your child is willing to stay overnight, contact the admissions office a few weeks in advance.
Other things to do: Read the student newspaper and listen to the college radio station.
Check out the bulletin boards for club activities and schoolwide events.
Wander around the campus on your own.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.