Visiting Colleges

Buying a car is a huge expense, and you know enough not to buy one without taking it out for a test drive.  Most likely, your investment in college will be much greater than that of any car you will buy, so committing to a school without doing extensive research just doesn’t make sense.  A major part of that research is the campus visit– a college “test drive,” of sorts.

Most college visits take place during an open house. Even though these are scripted events designed to show off the school in the best possible light, they are a critical part of your college search process and will provide you with very useful information. Here are some suggestions to get the most out of the experience.

1. Come prepared with questions. You can ask some of these in the large-group presentations that are part of most of these events. Others you can address to your tour guides, usually a student who knows the school from an undergraduate’s perspective.

2. Take notes. You may think you’ll remember what you heard, but after visiting four or five colleges it will all begin to run together inside your head.

3. Always go on the tour. This is usually a part of every college open house, and you’ll get a good feel for the campus and the facilities, usually from student guides who will show you the “lay of the land.”

4. The student guides will generally tell you what a “wonderful school this is,” and how the “teachers are all friendly and there to help you” and so on. Remember that colleges do not recruit embittered and unsatisfied undergrads for these events, so guides are going to focus on what’s good and what they like about their college. But you can get a deeper picture by asking them what they don’t like about the school or what they would change about it if they could. Young people are usually honest about these things, and you’ll benefit by getting these added perspectives.

5. When the official events of open house are over, linger and walk around on your own. Check out the bookstore, the college library, the campus quad, and any typical student hang-outs. Try to gauge the atmosphere of the campus and your comfort level with what you’re seeing and experiencing.

6. Stop a couple of students and talk to them. You may catch them off guard at first, but most will be flattered that you want to speak to them about their school. Find out how big their classes are, what the most popular majors are, what the teachers are like, the safety of the campus, and so on.

7. Peruse a copy of the campus paper, which you can usually find in- or outside the school bookstore. College newspapers are not censored as high school publications are, so you can get an unvarnished sense of students’ feelings and perspectives about some of the leading issues on campus.

The last suggestion is: Enjoy the day! Think of it as a family outing. Walk around, take in the sights, and cap it off with dinner out. Talk to each other about what you liked and didn’t like over a good meal and some pleasant conversation.

Happy searching!