Boy Scouts around the world live by the motto “Be prepared” and whether my students are involved in scouting or not, I encourage them (and readers of this blog as well!) to adhere to it too. In this case, I refer specifically to being prepared when it comes time to visit those campuses that you’ve long admired from afar via the Internet and the glossy brochures that fill your mailbox.
How can you be properly prepared for a campus tour?
I’ve touched on this topic a bit before, but it bears repeating (and updating)! In order to maximize your campus visit experience – especially when you’re visiting faraway schools that you might only get to see in person once – you must:
- Schedule your campus visit two weeks in advance. Prior planning allows you the opportunity to revisit the school’s web site and social media outlets to investigate those programs you’re most interested in and refresh your memory as to why this school is on your list to begin with. It also allows the school to send you pertinent information prior to your arrival on campus and schedule any special activities that may interest you (such as sitting in on class or meeting with the equestrian team coach).
- Dress appropriately. I can’t really stress this one enough – especially after going on a recent campus tour with a mother wearing stiletto heels for an hour and a half walk! (Thus, parents, this advice is also directed at you.) Students, that means that your campus tour isn’t the time to break out your most risky fashion choices; instead, think business casual: go for comfortable walking shoes (your sneakers or athletic shoes are perfect or at the very least flats for the ladies), layered clothing that will work well in varying temperatures, and appropriate clothing choices that don’t have rips, holes, or inappropriate slogans/images. (Of note: It’s probably best not to wear clothing from other colleges or universities you’ve already visited. You’d be surprised at how often it happens – and it doesn’t elicit enthusiasm for the school you’re visiting.)
- Pack appropriately. Along the lines of dressing appropriately, I encourage you to plan for all types of weather when you pack for your tour. Always pack an umbrella – even if you’re headed to San Diego! – because you never know when you’ll need it. And while many admission offices will send you out on tour with one of their loaner umbrellas (emblazoned with the school logo), remember that many campuses have visitor parking that is a long distance from the admissions office (sometimes all the way across campus) and you’ll need to cross that distance before you get to the complimentary umbrella. (This recently happened to my colleague and I at Rice University in Houston – but we were prepared with our umbrellas in hand!) Also prepare for sunny days with sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen where appropriate.
- Be ready to take notes. In an effort to save paper (and keep my notes handy for client meetings!), I’ve begun taking notes in campus information sessions with my iPad. Those notes upload automatically to my Gmail account and I can retrieve them from anywhere. But no matter what your note-taking preference is, be sure that you’re prepared to do so in the information session or in meetings that you have with faculty, coaches, and/or admission staff. (It’s amazing how much information will leave your mind the moment you depart campus if you don’t write it down!)
- Be flexible. By this, I mean that you shouldn’t lock yourself into just doing the campus tour and information session on your visit – especially if it’s a school that you have traveled a long distance to reach. If an interview slot with an admissions counselor opens up, take it. If a faculty member meets you at lunch and invites you to class afterward, go. If the riding coach says, “I think we can find a helmet and some boots for you if you want to ride,” then ride. The only way you’re going to know if the school is a fit for you is to experience it firsthand – and if the faculty and staff of the campus you’re visiting are willing to open it up to you in surprising and unexpected ways, it’s crucial that you’re able to seize those opportunities. (This is also the primary reason you shouldn’t do two campus visits in one day if possible; it’s hard to say yes to these chances if you have to drive two hours to make it to the next campus on time and must cut your visit to the first school short.)
So pack your bags, readers, log on to the Internet to schedule those tours, pack sensibly, and have fun! (Just leave the stiletto heels at home, ladies – and if you need more help with your college search, contact me.)