Dissecting the Campus Visit

In my last blog entry, I outlined the steps that I take prior to a campus visit to ensure that I walk away from every campus with all of the information that I need to get a good sense of what life there is like.  But after I’ve taken all of those steps, gone on tour, and asked all of my questions, how do I make sure I retain all of that good information and put it to use?  More importantly for you as a student, what should you do after your campus tour to evaluate the school and determine if it’s one that you should apply to?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Write down your thoughts IMMEDIATELY.  Once you’ve pulled away from campus, take the opportunity to get all of your immediate impressions down in some form so that you can refer to them later.  If you’re comfortable writing or typing on a tablet or iPad while your parent drives, that’s fine, but if it’s easier for you and your family to discuss the visit while you’re stationery, consider stopping for lunch or coffee along the way to have the conversation.  First impressions and your gut feelings are very important in the decision process and you need to record those while they’re still fresh in your mind.  Don’t try to organize them; just get everything recorded and worry about structuring your thoughts at a later date.
  • Make sure that you have both positive and negative impressions of each campus.  No school is perfect – and, in turn, no school is perfectly awful either.  Each has strengths and weaknesses and the only way that you’ll know that you got a clear picture of the school you just visited is if you can come up with at least one argument that is either in favor of a school that you didn’t like or one argument against the school that you didlike.  So if ABC College seemed perfect in every single way and you can’t come up with any flaws that make it seem more like a real place and less like an airbrushed photo, you probably didn’t ask enough questions or you allowed yourself to get too swept up in the excitement of the visit to evaluate the campus realistically.  Now, I’m not saying that a college can’t be a perfect fit for you.  Instead, I want you to get the most thorough first impression possible of your potential “perfect” school – warts and all! – so that the decision that you make to apply (and later to enroll) is an informed one, based on having all of the facts and information you need to do so.  That way, if you can say that ABC College had the right academic program, you liked the students you met, you liked the riding coach, the campus was beautiful but you thought that the community around the campus seemed a bit small and possibly not as thriving as you’d like – but it’s still your perfect fit school – than you’re more likely to be happy there for four years because you had all of the information in your hands before you even applied.
  • Compare your visits to each other.  After you’ve visited three or four schools and you’ve compiled your visit notes, begin to make comparisons.  No need to make a spreadsheet with graphs and mathematical analysis, just read over the pros and cons that you wrote down for each school and start to rank them in terms of what schools you really liked, what schools you really didn’t like, and what schools you’re still on the fence about.  Since your ideal number of schools to apply to is much smaller than the number that you visited, your visit notes will help you weed out the unlikely candidates.  In addition, comparing your notes can also help you discover if you learned something at one school that you forgot to ask a question about at another.
  • Begin to make a list of schools that you will visit again.  After you’ve been through your first round of visits and determined where you will apply and what schools are highest on your list of potential candidates, you’ll need to visit your favorites again at some point to both refresh your memory about their exact offerings and go more in-depth with perhaps a classroom visit or overnight stay in a residence hall.  Check out the web sites of your top picks again to see if there are any special visit programs coming up that will fit both your interests and your schedule or contact your admission counselor to see about your options for a return visit – and then make notes to determine what information you need most to obtain on your next trip.

I know that these steps sound like a lot to ask after a long day of walking around and having facts and figures thrown at you (and they also sound a lot like homework!), but take it from someone who has visited a lot of campuses, it’s a lot easier to make the time to record your impressions and any lingering questions while the tour is still fresh in your mind than it is to strain to remember it all a few days or weeks later.  And if you take the time to really examine your visits, the application and decision process will be much less stressful for you during your senior year – which is sure to be filled with enough other stressful activity already!

(Want help with the process?  Let me know!)

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