Do Campus Visits Matter?

This day in age, with the ubiquity of college guides, social media, and websites, it may seem like you don’t have to make a campus visit. After all, you can find a wealth of information in traditional media and online, from narrative descriptions of campus life, to photos, videos, and admissions statistics. But can you really get to know a campus through other people’s eyes? Probably not. What other people perceive and present, including the colleges themselves, is only a limited picture of the college experience. You really need to go see for yourself what a school is like, before committing four-years of your life as well as thousands of dollars in tuition to an institution. Think of it as a courting process. You wouldn’t marry someone whom you haven’t dated, let alone met in person, would you?

So what do you need to know?

Reasons Why You Want to Visit:
What you see online and in books restricts the full sensory experience of being on a campus. You not only want to determine how beautiful a campus’ facilities are, but also what surrounds the college, what smells are in the air, how the food tastes, what noises permeate the environment, and how hot or cold it can get. You should also want to take the opportunity to interact with admissions officers and random students to ask questions that are meaningful to you, both about the admissions process and campus life. The picture provided by someone who works for the university can be very different from that painted by a candid student.

Campus visits are also a great opportunity to express your sincere desire to attend a college. Whether or not you realize it, many schools track students’ “demonstrated interest,” by taking notes on points of contact, be they on the phone, via email, at college fairs, in alumni interviews, or during on-campus visits. The more you reach out to a school in significant ways, such as to ask questions or take advantage of admissions events, the more likely they are to admit you. You are no longer just a name on paper, but a person with a voice and a face, and it’s a lot harder to say “no” to somebody you’ve met.

When You Should Go:
While most families visit campuses during the summer, because of the ease of finding time while their children are not in school, this is actually the worst time to experience a college. Classes aren’t in session, most professors and students aren’t around, and many facilities are closed. As a result, you get a very narrow perspective of what life is really like at schools. To take full advantage of a campus visit, you should try to visit during the school year, when classes are in session and not on a holiday. That way you can see what students are like on campus, maybe sit in on a class, or even spend the night in a dorm. You must remember that a college is not just a collection of beautiful structures, but it is also the people who live there.

What You Should Do:
When you’re on campus, the students in the family should be guiding the visit. They should be asking questions, taking pictures, and jotting down notes as well as impressions. The students should also be the ones who set up their participation in any available information sessions, tours, and interviews. The purpose of visiting, after all, is about providing students with an opportunity to learn more about the schools to where they are applying and ultimately allowing them to decide whether or not to apply or eventually attend. Parents, of course, can help facilitate campus visits by making the travel arrangements, taking their own photographs, and meeting with financial aid officers. They should remember, however, that theirs is a supporting (and supportive) role in this adventure, and their children are the lead stars. After all, this process is about them and their academic futures!

Posted on August 3, 2013 at 8:37 am

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