As an independent educational consultant, part of my job description is to take a lot of campus tours.
Allow me to repeat that: I take a LOT of campus tours.
What’s more, I encourage each and every one of my students to take a lot of campus tours (or a LOT of tours, depending on the student). After all, which college or university you attend will have a tremendous and indelible impact on the path that your life and career take after high school, so you want to obtain every piece of information you can about your prospective alma mater before you enroll. Visiting can contribute a lot to your final decision – and the visit is often the deciding factor as to whether or not a school remains on your list.
But campus visits come with one main challenge that each student must overcome. It isn’t an impossible undertaking and I’ve no doubt that you’ll be able to handle it. That challenge is the following:
Every campus tour is the same.
I’m not attempting to be flippant or make broad generalizations here. I’m merely sharing a simple truth so that you can better evaluate your campus visits and get a real sense of what life is like at your dream school before you matriculate in August.
So how is every campus tour the same? (After all, every school is different, so how can they be offering the same tour experience?)
Allow me to outline the basics. Each and every campus tour you go on will:
- take you through at least one library, the student center, a residence hall, a place to eat (dining hall, cute student-oriented bistro, or coffee shop), a quadrangle of some sort (academic or residential – and possibly both), and two academic buildings (one science center and one not a science center)
- bypass the campus’s token ugly building. (Trust me on this one – every school has a building that was constructed most likely during the cinderblock craze of the 1970s and hasn’t been renovated since, thus embarrassing the office of admission. They like to pretend that it doesn’t exist and they’d rather you see it after you’re already enrolled.)
- introduce you to the most diverse, interesting, and outgoing student(s) on a given college or university’s campus. They will be your tour guides and they are hand-picked by the admission staff for their bright personalities and ability to personify the very best that the school has to offer.
- extol the amount of academic rigors inherent in the school’s curriculum, brag about the numerous clubs and organizations that will be available to you (including the opportunities you’ll have to start your own if you see fit), and point out the accessibility of faculty during their office hours.
Thus, if you want to get the most out of your visit to a campus, you’re going to have to do a little more probing in order to form a real opinion of the institution.
My suggestions? In no particular order, I recommend:
- visiting the student center, dining hall, or academic quad on your own before or after the tour. Talk to the students you meet there – the students who haven’t been hand-picked by the admission office and will tell you (most likely in no uncertain terms) exactly how they feel about their chosen alma mater.
- sitting in on a class if you have the opportunity. Granted, the admission office will most likely help you select a class with a very popular professor and make sure that you go on a day when something exciting is happening that’s bound to hook your interest, but you’ll most likely have a chance to stay after and ask the professor questions and you can also pick the brains of the students around you (just like in the first bullet point above).
- TRY THE FOOD. This one is in all capital letters because it’s crucial that you try the food in one of the dining halls (not that cute student bistro the guide pointed out to you in the student union – you won’t be able to afford to eat there every day after you buy your first textbooks!) while you’re on campus. If you hate the food on your first visit, there will be no way you’ll be able to eat it happily for a semester, a year, or even for four years as a student.
- walking around without your parents for at least 30 minutes if possible (or for any of the above suggested activities). Though they may embarrass you with some of the questions they ask on your campus tour, their presence also provides a security blanket for you that can prevent your having to step outside of your comfort zone and experience the college or university as you will if you enroll as a student.
The bottom line is, all campus tours may be the same, but no two campuses are. (See the photos that accompany this blog entry for evidence.) As a result, you’re going to have to work a little bit in order to really discern what qualities do (and do not!) work for you in your potential new school. It isn’t impossible – and if you enjoy unraveling a good mystery, it can even be a little bit fun.
Want help along the way? Contact me and I’ll walk you through it!