Picking back up from our last blog entry...

Whether you'll be on a junior-year sampler tour or doing targeted senior-year test-drive visits to campuses that have invited you to attend, there are a few things to keep in mind for getting the most from your visit.

It's most about how you engage while you're there, and then how you evaluate and catalog your experience.  Three main things to remember:

Ask many, many questions, and speak to as many different people as you can.

  • If you can get a minute with a professor, a student passing by, or even someone working in the dining hall, you'll be able to get a very honest, unvarnished take on daily campus life.
  • It's not to say that admissions and tour guides AREN'T honest; it's just that they've been trained on a script to highlight certain (very positive) aspects of the college.
  • Speaking to others can provide a more balanced picture, so don't hesitate to ask about the things they wish would change.

Feel out the atmosphere on your own terms.

  • Get a bite to eat! Try out the on-campus dining options yourself, & while you're at it, do some people watching to see what students are like in their natural habitat.
  • Take your own walk on campus, imagining yourself among the students there passing from one class to another.
  • Check out the campus bulletin boards & take a glance at the school newspaper headlines—what's on students' minds?

Document your experience carefully and consistently.

  • Pictures & note-taking are great—if you have a parent with you, ask if they'd be willing to handle those tasks during the visit so that you can give it your undivided attention. (You'll write down your own impressions afterward.)
  • Make sure to ask a standard set of questions. I suggest at least 3 - 5 that you ask both on and off the official tour. (If you're wondering what kinds of questions, you might check out www.getreadyforcollege.org, the National Survey of Student Engagement, thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com for suggestions.)
  • Score your colleges -- in other words, force yourself to come up with a standard rating, even when you feel like you're comparing apples and oranges. I arm my students with a simple scorecard, which might work for you.

One last thing for juniors...

Connect with your regional representative at the college.

  • After the tour, ask if your geographic region's admissions counselor is on campus.
  • Even if that person is not there, say that you would like to introduce yourself, because you would like to open up a line of communication if questions come up as you're getting ready to apply.
  • Ask about the best way to contact that person in the future—email or phone or both.
  • If you have unanswered questions from the tour, ask away.
  • Once you're finished, thank that person for the time spent with you.