As a busy parent or high school student does the image above resonate with you? It does for me (although I like to think my iCal version at least looks much more organized). Between sports practices, business travel, homework and social commitments, family schedules often leave little room to spare. But if you have a high school junior in the house, there are compelling reasons to clear some space in the calendar. In order to build the best college list, the one that is based on personal empirical evidence rather than rumor, reputation and outside opinion, it is critical to make time for college visits during junior year.
Perception versus Reality
Friends, family members, websites and brochures are excellent resources in researching colleges, but none of them compare to firsthand experience. As an independent consultant working with high school students, I rely on students’ impressions when building and refining lists. No postcard or online student review can replace eating in a college cafeteria, talking to students, observing a lecture or participating in a tour. Will the remote wooded campus make you feel isolated or will the prospect of hiking or bonding with classmates away from urban distraction solidify your college experience? Will a city campus thrill you with the notion of non-stop action and opportunity or will you find it overwhelming and less desirable than a traditional campus? What students wear, how they spend their free time, how the college fits within its surrounding environment and how classrooms are laid out are just a few of the nuances that vary from school to school and can be understood from visits.
The dog days of summer might seem the perfect time to visit and realistically you’ll probably need to visit some schools during the summer, but your options and impressions might be limited. Most colleges offer fewer tours during the summer so it may be difficult to accommodate your schedule (TIP: if you visit when there is no formal tour offered, be sure to stop in the admissions office to let them know you were there and sign up for their mailing list). There are fewer students on campus in the summer as well, so campuses may not depict the same kind of hustle and bustle present during the school year, leaving you with a potentially inaccurate impression. Fall of senior year presents a final opportunity to visit colleges, but keep in mind, you’ll want those precious weekends for completing applications, writing essays, interviewing if necessary, and eventually for attending admitted student days.
“I’ll just wait until I’m accepted and visit the schools then.”
In theory this strategy makes sense, but in the world of college admissions, it is seriously flawed. During the Information Sessions built into college visits, you can gain valuable insight into what admissions offices are looking for in students and in applications. In addition, many colleges ask on applications what contact you’ve had with the school. I’ve heard numerous college admission representatives emphasize the importance of visits, some even to say they expect students who live within a certain radius to visit or they might not view them as serious candidates. This concept illustrates another critically important reason to visit: Demonstrating Interest. The quintessential method of showing interest to colleges is visiting. And while visiting is most important for the student to gain a firsthand familiarity with the school, it is important also to show colleges you are truly interested. Colleges track students’ “touchpoints” because they need to manage their yield, the percentage of students offered admission who choose to attend. When evaluating applications, most colleges prefer to offer admission to students they think have a higher chance of saying yes.
Why This College?
Building on the concept of showing interest, visiting can help you generate authentic material for the all-important “Why do you want to come to our college” essay. These essays become personal and can demonstrate your fit with the school both academically and within the campus community when they include anecdotes or impressions from experiences on campus.
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” ~ Napoleon Hill
While a busy calendar is probably more permanent than you would like, junior year is most definitely NOT. So, carve out some time to spend together visiting colleges, creating personal preferences and maybe even some special memories.