In just a few weeks, the agony of waiting will be over for students who applied Regular Decision to selective colleges. April becomes a frantic month as seniors rush to visit weekends at various campuses to make their final decision. Colleges put their best foot forward, roll out the red carpet, provide great food, schedule entertainment, open classes, teach info sessions, and host students in the dorm.
It is exciting, overwhelming, and can leave the unprepared student no wiser at the conclusion.
Here are some tips to get the most out of Visit Weekends.
1. Do your homework before you go
Talk to young alums (preferably who graduated in your field of interest)
- Did the college prepare them for the job market?
- Would they choose that college again?
- How helpful is the advising?
- How useful is career services?
- Why should you pick college A over college B?
- Any advice on how to make the best use of your time on that campus.
Find organizations of interest – Research what groups are on campus that are important to you and try to schedule time to meet with some kids who participate in them. This is a good time to find a faith community and plan a coffee break with the leader.
Determine if there are certain professors or labs you want to visit and make an appointment.
2. Take your parents
Give them a job – outline what info sessions you would like them to attend and what questions they need to ask. Since the focus is on the student, parents can blend into the woodwork and find out all kinds of information by sleuthing at local hangouts and talking to adults that serve the college community (we had a delightful conversation with a campus policeman who put our minds to rest about our daughter’s safety). How responsive (and how well-trained) are the Resident Advisors in dealing with medical or emotional crisis?
Parents can pay attention to the kinds of posters that are up all over campus and read the campus newspaper to get a feel for the student population. They can ascertain the attitude of students, check out the medical facilities, and generally get information that kids don’t think about.
3. Talk to students
This is not the time to be shy. Talk to everyone who comes across your path to get a wide range of opinion:
- What is it really like in the dorm?
- Is the food healthy, tasty, and varied?
- What is the noise level like during the week and on weekends?
- Are there many roommate issues and what happens if there is?
- Is there help for a student who struggles with classes?
- How accessible are professors?
- What clothing is appropriate for everyday class?
- Are there ever dress up events?
- What should you bring to college and what should you leave at home (given the tiny nature of most rooms)?
4. Check out the infrastructure
- How effective is the campus Wi-Fi – is it often overwhelmed and moving slowly?
- Are dorms comfortable?
- Are there places for students to gather?
- Are the bathrooms gender segregated or open for everyone?
- How crowded is the library – can you get a stall there to study?
- How clean are the campus buildings and grounds?
5. Does this feel like home?
Inevitably students feel uptight, pressured, bored, or claustrophobic at certain campuses they thought they would like (even if they enjoy the students) and breath a sigh of relief when they get to a campus that feels like home. I’ve learned to consider all the data points, and then listen to the heart.
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