Spring Break is here! For some, this might be time to visit grandparents, head to an adventurous destination or relax on the beach. However, for high school juniors, now is the perfect time to consider visiting colleges on your short list. Visiting a college in person gives you special insight into what attending that school will be like for you. It is information that is difficult to gain in any other way. If you are seriously considering a school, then you want to make the trip to visit the campus in-person. There are some key tips to remember as you plan your visit.
1. Make Sure Their Class Is In Session
Campus with and without students can feel like two different places. It is much more difficult to get a sense of the culture when visiting a college on their break. Try to avoid spring and summer breaks when you can. For example, one of my clients visited a few colleges over her December break and the campus was a ghost town. I helped her set up a visit schedule for this spring which provided her a much more realistic view of the university—she was even able to speak with a professor in the biology department (which is her subject of interest).
If summer is the only time you are able to go, aim for June or August when summer programs or athletics bring students back to campus—some schools even have summer sessions. Align your visit with busy times and avoid holidays like spring break. These dates are maps out in advance on the schools’ website usually under “academic calendar.”
Harvard Spring Break: March 12, 2016 to March 20, 2016
Yale Spring Break: March 11 to March 28
Princeton Spring Break: March 12 to March 20
MIT Spring Break: March 21 to March 25
Columbia Spring Break: March 14 to March 18
NYU Spring Break: March 14 to March 20
2. Make Sure Your Class Is Not In Session
Do your best to avoid missing school in order to visit colleges. Some high schools give students certain special days off to go on visits. It that’s not your case, use your spring break and three-day weekends. Or do whatever you can to plan your visit and get schoolwork finished in advance. Remember, the highest GPA possible is one of the most important components of a successful college application.
3. Go for Three!
At each school you visit you will want to attend both the campus tour and the info session put on by admissions. Additionally, try to attend a class or part of a class whenever possible. Usually contacting the admissions office by phone or email before you go will allow you to set all of this up ahead of time. I recommend getting in touch with departments of interest as well—some may offer you specific departmental tours or the chance to converse with a professor. Also, don’t forget to eat in the cafeteria or dining hall if at all possible. If that is not an option, the student center or nearby food options are important to check out while you are there.
Write down notes as you go along and use your phone to take photos and video—you won’t be able to remember anything by the end of a visit weekend. You may want to note names of your tour guides or admissions officers for thank you notes or emails as well. One of my more recent clients discussed his MIT tour and the inspirational feeling the experience gave him in one of his admissions essays. As we set up the structure–the more details he was able to reference, the better the essay sounded.
4. Stay Focused
Choose one geographical area at a time to visit—so if you are using a long weekend and for example, traveling to Boston you should see three or four schools within that city. Try to visit no more than two schools per day, or you will become overwhelmed and the details of each will begin to run together in your mind. I advise my clients at Stratus Prep to bring me their lists ahead of time so we can organize them geographically and according to their interests—I also usually add in a school in the area they may have overlooked. This way their visits are the most efficient and effectual they can possibly be considering the college process is packed with student obligations and they are often being pulled in many different directions.
5. Think it over
Once the visiting is finished reexamine the notes and your thoughts from each school. I make a chart with my Stratus Prep clients—in order to compare different positives and negatives from each visit. This will help you to synthesize the information you gained from the visit and give you a new perspective or at least a more informed view of the schools on your list. Even if you can’t visit in-person, many colleges have virtual tours to help give you a feel for the campus and you can talk online or over the phone with current students via the admissions office. Don’t apply to a school you haven’t experienced in at least some way.
Remember, research and information set you up for a successful fit and the school that’s best for you! Do you have questions about planning your campus visit or your college applications? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Laurie Martin is the director of Undergraduate and Graduate Admissions Consulting at Stratus Prep.