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College Visit Breakdown

“Oh, the places you’ll go!” wrote Dr. Seuss.

Maya Moritz

January 04, 2014

College Visit Breakdown
“Oh, the places you’ll go!” wrote Dr. Seuss. In a way, every college you go to will be a very different place with its own limitations and benefits which make it unique from every other college. Here are some tips to help you discover whether a college is right for you during your college visit:

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First of all, when you visit a college, you’re going to want a tour. If you know a student there who is willing to give you a private tour, just for you and your family, then make sure to contact this student. Private tours are more intimate, so the student may feel more comfortable telling you some things a regular tour guide couldn't say (“The food is horrible,” for example). If you don’t have the luxury of a private student-led tour, then you’ll have to journey the campus with a college-chosen student.

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Keep in mind that colleges will only employ happy, successful students as tour guides as to cast the school in the best light, so you’re probably not meeting the average student there. Make sure to arrive on time. You don’t want to miss any part of the tour, because seeing the dorms or the quad could decide or ruin the college for you. During the tour, scope out your group. Is there a parent there who knows more about the school than the tour guide?

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Try speaking to the student on the tour that’s dead set upon this school, only touring it so his parents will let him do early decision. Then, try speaking to the student who has been dragged here by their parents, and ask him why he doesn't want to go. Every opinion will give you insight into the school, and will help you to form your own opinion. Next, listen to what the tour guide is saying, and ask relevant questions. The little nuances you learn about the school will help to differentiate it from your other picks, and will help with your decision. On every tour, there will most likely be a parent who will ask upwards of a thousand questions: Are the bathrooms co-ed? What are the meal plans like? What’s the drinking situation like on campus? Will my child have time to meet with her professors? At first, this person may seem annoying, asking sometimes obvious and sometimes pertinent questions. Nevertheless, listen anyway, because the answers may surprise you. As the tour progresses, take notes. You’ll tour so many colleges, probably, that the information will feel like a blur by the end of your visits. More importantly, you’ll need these notes when writing your essays. Many colleges have an extra section to their applications in which the college asks specific questions, like why do you want to go to this university? For these questions, personalized notes may distinguish you as a candidate who really knows and likes the school. Now, sometimes the information sessions occur prior to the tour, and sometimes these sessions come after, but either way you should definitely go. Information sessions have a lot to offer. To start, information sessions usually consist of an advisor or application reader and one or two students who will be there to elaborate on the advisor’s points and to offer their own insights. Advisors, of course, have much of the information you’ll want: how to get in, what the college looks for and then expects, and what the college offers to students. If you have a question specific to the area you would like to study, you can go up to the advisor afterwards and ask personally. While you don’t need to go into these sessions knowing what you’re looking for, this knowledge certainly helps. At an information session at Harvard, a student asked about the curriculum. The advisor responded that Harvard stressed a liberal arts education, so that students will take classes in all subjects. Another student and his parents in the audience promptly left, because they preferred the math and science of MIT. During the time you’re near the college, make sure to speak to a student milling about campus. Do they like the school? How did they get in? Would they recommend it? First-hand experience is the best information, I have found. Next, college tours are supposed to help you decide where you’ll spend the next four years of your life, so visit the town. If there’s a small college town with a few restaurants, have some pizza and walk around. If the college is in or near a big city, getting a feel for the area may be harder. It may be easier to do some internet research about the city and its attractions rather than to attempt to quantify it in one visit. With these procedures, you will probably have determined the “feel” of the college, decided if you superficially like it and maybe decided whether or not to apply there. If you’re applying early decision, more trips are definitely advisable, and when you’re accepted, go again to make sure it still looks as promising. Remember- it’s the next four years of your life, so picture yourself there at 21, and let that vision guide your choice.

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