Pre-Visit Planning

Last Friday, I finally booked my flight to Massachusetts for April.  I’m traveling there to do a presentation at Dana Hall School in Wellesley on the basics of how to navigate the college admission and recruitment process when you’re a college-bound equestrian.  But, because no trip is ever complete for me if I can’t visit one or more college campuses that are in the vicinity of my destination while I’m there, I’m also planning to do several campus tours while I’m there.  (After all, how can I hope to advise my students on great colleges if I don’t take the time to investigate as many of them in person as I possibly can?)

Now, even though I’m still in the process of finalizing the colleges that I will visit during my quick trip to the East Coast (I should have time to visit approximately four), there is one thing that doesn’t need to be examined and that is my pre-visit routine.  That is one thing that I have down to a science.

Now, I should undoubtedly take a moment to explain what I mean by “pre-visit routine.”  I’m not talking about a round of calisthetics to stretch my legs before I take a campus walking tour, nor am I referring to packing a bag full of supplies that might be necessary while I’m out and about.  Instead, I’m talking about the way that I prepare to visit a college campus, the research that I conduct before I arrive in town, and the steps that I take to ensure that I will obtain all of the information I need while I’m there.  You see, preparation is the key to a successful campus visit – and a campus visit isn’t successful unless it ultimately helps you determine whether or not a particular school will be one that you apply to as a senior.  But in the same way that you wouldn’t suddenly pull your horse out of the field after a month off, take him to a horse show, and then expect him to win a blue ribbon, you can’t just expect to show up on your campus visit and have it be successful if you haven’t taken a few pre-visit steps to ensure success.

Here’s what I do – and what you can do to ensure that your campus visit is a success:

  • Schedule an appointment with the admission office.  It sounds like such a little thing, but it’s crucial.  Because admission offices utilize student tour guides, the majority of them only offer tours at certain times of day during the week (and on select Saturdays) so they can work around those students’ classes.  By scheduling an appointment, you’ll be assured that a guide will be available when you arrive and that you can attend an information session with an admission counselor so that you can get all of your questions about the school answered.  If you show up on campus without an appointment, you might end up getting a campus map from the admission office and taking a self-guided tour – a process that will create more questions than it will answer.
  • Visit the web site.  Every college web site is (necessarily) a wealth of information about the academic and athletic programs, social life, costs, and more.  Admittedly, some are more navigable than others, but at the very least, be sure to make the time to thoroughly search the site to familiarize yourself with the college beyond the brochures they’ve sent you.  Examine the pages devoted to your academic interests, to the school’s equestrian team or club (and to the riding center if they have one on campus), and any of your other interests, like Greek life, other clubs and organizations, thoroughly.  This will help you come up with specific questions to ask on your tour.
  • Write down a list of questions you’d like answered on your visit.  You don’t have to get fancy and create a list of 20 questions to rattle off for a tour guide or admission counselor, but at many points during your visit, you’ll be asked if you have questions and it’s always good to have some prepared – especially because, by having done research prior to your arrival, you’ll be able to ask better, in-depth questions that will help you get a much more thorough sense of whether or not a program will fit you.
  • Familiarize yourself a bit with campus itself.  While you’re surfing the campus web site, examine the school’s online tour.  Though it doesn’t seem logical to tour the campus remotely right before you will visit in person, keep in mind that most campus tours take an average of an hour and that’s often only enough time to scratch the surface.  Use the online tour to determine what buildings you’d most like to see so that you can ask your tour guide to show them to you specifically (or, in the event that you’re on a group tour, so that you can visit the buildings on your own afterward).  That way, you won’t leave campus having missed out on seeing what’s most important to you.
  • Investigate the riding program and write down important contact names.  When it comes to evaluating how you’ll fit into a school’s equestrian offerings, planning ahead is key.  If you’re going to visit a school with a varsity team, equine major, and/or riding facility on campus, it’s usually just a matter of letting the admission staff know of your interest in the program when you schedule your visit and asking for an opportunity to tour the facilities and meet with the coach(es) after you complete your campus tour and admission session.*  If you’re visiting a school with a less formal equestrian club, however, you may need to contact the club president or another member directly to let him or her know of your interest and make arrangements to meet up either on campus or at the off-campus riding facility after your campus tour.  (The majority of college and university equestrian clubs have web pages that can be easily accessed with a quick Google search – I normally type “ABC College equestrian” in the search bar to find them.)  If the student page is out of date or you have trouble contacting the student prior to your visit, have their name handy when you arrive in the admission office and ask the staff there to help you get in touch.  They’re normally happy to help.

Once I’ve compiled a list of notes and questions on the school I’m about to visit, all that’s left really is to find my most comfortable shoes (and, as a dressage rider, you know that means I’ll be wearing my trusty Danskos!), grab an umbrella and my sunglasses so I’m prepared for any and all weather events, and enjoy myself.  Visiting campuses is something I always look forward to and I’ve never had a bad experience when I’ve arrived prepared.

(Now, one thing I neglected to mention was the process of organizing and scheduling the visits themselves.  As a frequent campus traveler, there are two great web sites I recommend to make the process simple:  Go See Campus and Smart College Visit.  Both sites can help with everything, from finding colleges and universities to visit, to arranging transportation, lodging, and meals – they’re great resources!)

I can be a great resource to help you plan your college visits as well.  Contact me today and we’ll get started!

*If you’re considering an NCEA equestrian program (formerly NCAA Equestrian), there are certain rules and practices that govern your campus visit and ability to interact with the coach.  Another blog entry on this topic will be forthcoming!

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