Friday, August 29, 2014

Making the most out of your college visit

The other day we were walking around campus and we saw high schoolers touring campus, which was a very weird feeling considering it was just us. I mean, I visited Richmond for the very first time in April and made my decision basically while I was there that I was going to go to school here, so the fact that I'm now a college student seeing people on tours seems surreal, but also makes it real that college visits are so important, so these are some of the things I've thought about.

I think there's a lot about touring colleges that people don't seem to think about, and it's a little overwhelming if you're just now getting into it. I had a lot of friends that started visiting during sophomore year, but I made my first real visits during fall break of junior year. There's really no bad time to start, but you have to keep context in your head. When I was a sophomore and junior, I was set on really small, liberal arts schools in the south and nothing else, but I still visited bigger schools, which I'm grateful for. No matter what grade you're in, your mind will change about college. I cannot stress this enough to my sister who's only a sophomore and to my friends who are seniors. You may have the perfect idea of the kind of school (or even the particular school) you want, but almost every single person I know ended up somewhere differently than they had thought they would. Yes, that's scary to think about (especially when you're someone like me who has to know everything in advance), but that's why I'm trying to stress that you should visit every school you have a chance to and not turn any away. My family's biggest thing was always just visiting a school even if you know you're not going to apply (especially if you're going to be near it anyways) so you at least have something to compare it to and you know what you do and don't want.

That being said, knowing what you want in a school is extremely difficult when you're just getting started. I was even talking to my 17 year old brother the other day about him visiting schools and he said, "I just don't know what I want", and oh, how that's such the classic statement of everyone trying to decide on college. The only thing you really can do to combat that is visit lots of schools and have a personal experience each time you go, and here are a few of the things I've gathered from college tours.

Set up an actual tour and visit. Most times, there'll be a tour and an information session. A lot of people think about driving by and touring on their own, and while that's a good idea if there's no other option, your opinion on the school differs greatly if it's not an official visit. For example, I visited Clemson while the school was on fall break and there wasn't anyone there, and it didn't have as good of an impression as it would have if I had gone to the official stuff. Also, some schools count interest as a point of admission, meaning that when you visit, it's marked in their records for them when you apply and gives you a leg up.

The information session is important because they'll tell you what they want you to know about the school and how to apply and get in and is the perfect chance to ask questions... but only questions that an admissions office can answer. Please, for the love of everything good, don't ask questions that are on their website or that are only personal to your situation, ie, "Are you on the Common App?" or "If I want to play soccer at your school, how can I get a scholarship?" It's completely frustrating to others there and also makes you look like you don't know your facts about the school. But don't let that stop you from asking questions!

The tour is also important, but again, they're going to show you the absolute best parts of campus in order to get you to attend. What you need to think about during this is "Can I see myself here?" Look at the people walking around campus, in the library, and think about if you could see yourself as a student walking around. It's a hard way to explain it, but if you have no clue what you're looking for, this is a good way to help you. I most definitely felt that about lots of schools I visited, and of course, when I visited Richmond, I knew that it just felt like home.

Take notes, get the literature, and keep the names. I know taking notes can sometimes come across as overeager, but it's insanely crucial to take notes while you're in the info session and immediately after. Sometimes you'll visit several schools on one trip and you'll think you can remember each of them, but you won't- they'll all blend together. I had these papers that I would fill out after each visit where I wrote down interesting facts they brought up in the info session and then ranked my thoughts on random parts of the school, such as culture, food, campus, admissions, etc. They'll also have lots of different pamphlets for different aspects of the school (admissions, financial aid, different schools within the school, etc), and get all of them. You're not committed to each thing, but it's nice to have a quick overview of what they're saying is important and great.

There will be lots of people leading different sessions and tours and people you get in contact with, so be sure to keep track of who's who (especially your regional director- the person that'll most likely be overlooking your application) and get the email addresses. It's always nice to follow up after you visit or keep in case you have a question about your application. Feel free to talk to them after and ask questions and just simply talk to them about the school. This is their job and they love the school they're at and want to share their enthusiasm about it!

Try to see a dorm, the dining hall, and the gym. I'm kind of nosy person and just absolutely love looking at the dorms. Housing wasn't really a make or break thing for me in a school, but it definitely helped when we got to see a dorm room and I could see myself living there. Funny enough, I toured the dorm I currently live in when I visited UR! Eating in the dining hall is also a cool experience I think people should have. Considering you'll be there a lot, it helps ease your mind about actually being a student at that school. Take that with a grain of salt, though, acknowledging that bigger schools aren't as focused on their dining halls. I specifically remember Davidson, Furman, Emory, and UR for their dining halls, and even got to eat with a student at Emory, which helped solidify my thoughts on it. The gym/recreation center can also be a large part of your school, so try to check it out if you can.

TALK TO PEOPLE. I know it'll feel weird, but you have to remember that when you visit a school, they're going to tell you about the things they can actually tell. Not that there are secrets, but an admissions office isn't going to tell you about the culture of their school or their experiences, so if you get a chance to talk to a current student, TAKE IT. Students that are signed up for events with the admissions office are doing it because they love the school (and if they aren't, then that's a sign of the school itself) and want to tell you all about it. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how they chose their school, what they're studying, what they do there, and just about their personal experiences. In my opinion, it's the best way to get to know what the students of the school are like. Also, if you get the opportunity to, try to do an overnight. I didn't do one anywhere, but one of my friends did one at every school she was considering and she said it helped her make up her mind a lot. Plus, it can build communications if you have questions later on or if you actually end up attending.

Explore the city around. I usually visited schools with my whole family, but when my mom and I visited a few in the spring, we would get there the night before our tour and just drive around to see what the city has. I think that early on in my college process, I didn't pay attention to the city, but it's a huge factor into where you decide to go. Do you want a college town where most of the campus is the whole city, or a school that's more closed, or a school in a big city? It's totally a personal opinion, but something to consider when you'll be thinking about career or volunteer opportunities, plus the social aspects. Do most people go off campus to eat at restaurants? Are there concerts in the city? Try to get a feel for the city and see how it correlates with the campus- this'll help you think about how you could see yourself there.

I also get a lot of questions about what to wear on college visits. I was someone who always dressed up for tours, simply because you never know who you're going to meet. It doesn't really matter for your application what you wear (they're not going to look at your app and think, "Oh, that girl wore a t-shirt, we're going to reject her"), but if you do happen to meet someone, you want them to remember you for your dedication to looking presentable. Dress comfortably, but also cute. For visits when it was warm, I wore simple dresses and ballet flats (sandals will make your feet hurt so badly.... the Jacks aren't worth it), and when it was cooler, casual dresses/skirts, cable knit sweaters, riding boots, and tights. Sometimes I would wear ballet flats with tights, but everyone knows how much warmer boots are. Bring a coat, because you'll be walking a lot and even if it's not completely fashionable, your impression of the school will be altered if you're freezing.

Here are a few photos I've found that would be good for college visits! Some of these are pants, which are just as fine, too, I just dressed them up as much as I could!

Hopefully these tips are all okay, let me know if there's anything I didn't answer or anything else I could help with! I asked a few friends and they agreed with these, so hopefully there's nothing I missed! Have any questions or suggestions? I'd love to hear!


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  1. This is so true- I had my heart set on UVA but after visiting Wake I realized I wanted a smaller school. And you're so lucky to be in Richmond, they have the only decent shopping in my area and amazing restaurants!

    1. Exactly! And too funny, I applied to all of those schools- hope you're LOVING Wake!!

      xoxo, Meredith

  2. These are all such great tips! Love that you're blogging as a freshman so you can truly help others accurately. You're living it. I hope you're having a great time!

    1. Thank you so much, this means a lot!! :)

      xoxo, Meredith


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