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How to Visit a College April 14, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College-bound juniors,College-bound seniors , add a comment

Hey there Class of ’10 -

Gary the College Guy here . . .

Most of you will make some college visits this spring, and I want to give
you some ideas and thoughts to incorporate in to your planning. For those of
you who haven’t decided to visit some schools – you should. Whether you go
far (which isn’t necessary, as there are literally hundreds of schools in
New England which will welcome you for a visit) or stay close to home, it’s
a good idea to get yourself on to some real college campuses, so all of this
mumbo jumbo about choosing colleges to apply to will start making sense.

I think that what’s important at this stage of the game is NOT to try and
see all the schools you think you’re most interested in applying to, but
rather to visit a sampling of different types of campuses so you can check
out first hand what this college thing is all about. Heck, most juniors I’ve
spoken to don’t have a clue about where they want to apply yet, and that’s

Some of you may be planning to visit campuses over the summer. That’s an
okay time to visit schools, but the problem is that at that time of year
you’re seeing a ghost town – the physical plant only. Unless it’s a major
University with a full blown summer session, those kids you see walking
around will likely be high school (and younger) dudes attending summer
sports and academic programs. So February and April break are good times for

If you’re traveling with family or friends this winter and spring, consider
that just about wherever you go, however you get there, there will be cool
schools nearby or on the way.

But again let me emphasize that your visits for now are just PRELIMINARY and
EXPLORATORY, so keep it mellow and just cruise a few schools…

As I said above, I think it’s not so important to visit EVERY campus you
think you’re interested in; but it is VERY IMPORTANT to experience a variety
of campuses before you make your final selections of where to apply. The
idea here is not so much “seen one, seen ‘em all”; rather it’s that because
visits take time and money, if you’ve seen a VARIETY of campuses – a small
and a large one; an urban and a rural one; a state University and a private
college – you’ll be in a better position to make judgments about schools
from the propaganda you’ll receive from them, as well as information from
books and off the internet.

Okay, now on to the actual visit. I know many folks start off by doing
³drive throughs², but I don’t like ‘em. How much can you tell about the
nature of a person from a photo? Not much, and that¹s the way I feel about
drive throughs. If you¹re gonna take the time to visit, take the time to do
it right.

First, CALL AHEAD (to admissions) – preferably a week (so Feb. break
visitors should make your calls this coming week and you’ll be right on
schedule) – to register for a tour and an information session if they’re

Second, REQUEST AN INTERVIEW from admissions. Now I know what some of you
are thinking here – but don’t be uptight when you hear the word ‘interview’.
Any sit down you have this early in the process will just be an
INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW, a chance for you to ask questions and to get
practice in an interview setting. Only a handful of colleges (the
super-selective ones) require EVALUATIVE interviews – and those will take
place next fall and winter when you’re a senior, AFTER you’ve applied.
Nevertheless, I think it’s great to take some interviews now for the
experience of learning how to feel comfortable answering AND ASKING
questions. Think of ‘em as dry runs – and don’t sweat ‘em!

BTW, not every school will give you an interview – they take up staff time -
but if you’re assertive many will schedule you. It’s not a bad job for mom
or dad to make the calls to try and set these up.

Third, leave time (an hour!) for doing something I call going
“FREE FALL” after the tour and interview. This means to SPLIT UP – student
from parent, and also student from friend if you’re visiting with a buddy -
and go wandering around campus with a knapsack so you look like, dare I say
it, a college student. Make it a game as you try and blend in: see if
someone mistakes you for a college student and asks you for directions (one
point) or where the happening party is tonight (five points!) or for a date
(you win!) Find a comfy place to get some face time and hang out. Plan to
meet back at the car or the admissions office in an hour or so.

The idea here is to get yourself AWAY from the comfort and familiarity of
parents and friends, and to actually put yourself in the head set of
thinking “could I see myself here as a student?!” I often get feedback from
kids that going ‘freefall’ was the best part of their visit – sometimes very
groovy things happen! So leave time for this!!

Okay, so I think every visit should include at a MINIMUM the above three
things you can try to arrange beforehand include sitting in on a class or
two (asking admissions or academic departments directly is how you do this);
spending an overnight in a dorm; meeting a coach or theater or band
director (as befits your interests), hooking up with a student you know who
goes to the school for one or all of the above. Students and parents can
call admissions to request help in setting any and all of these things up.
Remember: all schools are businesses, and their objective is to get you to
apply and choose them. Thus the friendly folks in the admissions office are
there to convince you why you should go there, so use them to help you
create what I call a “substantive” visit!

I recommend visiting no more than two schools/day. Don¹t try to cram in too
many – you¹ll feel rushed and you¹ll forget stuff. Plan on taking a minimum
of 2 – 3 hours per campus. Bring a digital or ‘disposable’ camera with you
and take some shots on each campus to help you remember which place had the
new library, which the awesome climbing wall.  After the tour and info
session/interview, go have lunch or a snack in the main cafeteria. Hang
around in a populated area during a class break so you can see some action.
And don’t forget to pick up an issue of the campus newspaper and read it -
lot’s of good non-propaganda material in there to feast upon.

As always, feel free to check with me before your visits if you want
suggestions or ideas for schools to go see, or questions you can ask during
interviews, or help setting up meetings with professors, coaches, other
faculty. That’s why I’m here!

Okay, gas up the tank, pick out some good CDs (I’m currently back to a
Springsteen phase – good driving AND college music!) and don’t wear the
jeans with the grass stains on ‘em!

Go have fun!

Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.