Spring is (almost) here, there’s some hope that the end of the pandemic may be in sight, and high school juniors are starting to think about their last summer of high school. This means now is a great time to start thinking about visiting colleges to get a feel for what the best fit looks like for you! Read on for tips for maximizing your college visits so you can make the most of your time on campus and best narrow down your list to only those that are the best fit.
While most colleges are continuing to offer virtual visit experiences and will likely continue to do so into the future, we’re starting to see colleges not only announce reopening plans for the fall but welcoming students to campus to learn more about their programs. As you look to spring break periods or long weekends, take advantage of having so many different kinds of colleges right here around Pittsburgh as your chance to see if a certain style of college is right for you. Specifically, the following colleges are actively welcoming students to their campuses this spring. I’ve also taken the added step to tell you what kind of college this will give you a feel for so you can make sure you’re visiting a broad sample of your options (links to schedule are included!).
- Allegheny College: Small liberal arts with a rural setting and flexibility with choosing a major
- Robert Morris University: Medium sized university in a suburban setting with convenient access to a city
- Point Park University: Small university with pre professional and creative degree options located right in a downtown of a major city.
- Ohio University: Large research university with college town location and a three hour drive from Pittsburgh for that “away from home” feel
Not only are these four examples all great schools, but by visiting this hypothetical college list you’ll be able to decide for yourself if you want a small vs large campus, to be right in a city or farther away from the hustle and bustle, and if you want to go away for college or stay closer to home.
Soak in the Experience
Now that you know where you’ll visit, have your GPS set, and made some overnight accommodations if needed, you’re ready to show up at the scheduled time for your visit. You should receive some sort of confirmation for your visit ahead of time and likely have signed up for an information, campus tour, and maybe a one on one meeting with an admission counselor. Make sure you know (and not just mom or dad know!) everything you’re signed up for so you know where to go. When you arrive on campus, you’ll probably be directed first to the admission office or a welcome center and you should plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early to give yourself time to park and get lost on your way to the office. If you can’t find it, it’s best to ask someone who looks like a student so you see quickly how friendly the campus is or isn’t!
Once you find the admission office or welcome center, you’ll likely check in and will need to fill out a form so they have some information about you. The receptionist will also tell you where to go for all of your appointments so you can start your day. This goes without saying but ALWAYS be respectful and courteous to everyone you meet, when I worked in college admissions the admission officers frequently covered the front desk for our administrative staff so the person you talk to could very well read your application.
Now that it’s time to start your first session you should pull out your notebook and pen (you remembered to bring one right?) so you can take notes or jot down questions you want to ask someone back at admission. This will help you stay engaged and focused on all of the information you’re taking in so you can reflect later when you get home and decide if you liked that college or not.
Finally, if your campus visit includes a tour, try to work your way to the front of the group so you can ask some questions of your tour guide as you walk. Some topics to consider are: what’s a typical weekend and weeknight like, what do they like the most and the least, how hard the classes are and what support services exist, if they changed their major or not and how easy it was to do so. The tour is also designed to let you see a sampling of classrooms, residence halls, and dining options but it won’t be able to go everywhere. Therefore, take pictures as you go so you can remember the experience and piece it back together in your mind when you get home.
Try the Food
There’s no doubt about it, there’s a TON of walking when you’re visiting a college so by the end (or sooner if you’re like me!) you’re going to be starving. Instead of trusting your old standbys and looking for the nearest Chipotle or Panera, channel your hunger pangs to enhance your visit experience. While on tour your guide likely shared their favorite place to eat so take their word for it and head there for lunch. You can also venture back to the admission office and ask for on campus recommendations for a more complete list of options and cuisine types. Plus, the office may even give you a meal card for prospective students!
Beyond trying the food, you’ll be amazed at how well you can get a feel for the social life on a college campus by seeing how students dine. As you eat, look around and take a few notes: are students eating in groups or alone, are students leisuring eating and taking a break or powering through their lunch while they work, are the dining spaces designed for gatherings or grab and go? These all tell you so much about what kind of living experience you’ll have on campus!
Go Home and Reflect
Now comes the best part, once you get home from your visit you should take a moment to jot down your likes and dislikes from the experience. Think about everything that you saw during the day and get it all out on paper. Most importantly, ask yourself if you can picture yourself there for four years, living in those dorms, and being friends with your tour guide. Those are the questions you want to answer so you know if you’re feeling a fit or not. You might also realize you didn’t really like a certain college that everyone is telling you that you should but remember this: despite all the noise around prestige and selectivity, fit still matters more than anything else. So don’t let outside forces tell you a college is a fit, use your own observations and feelings to decide that for yourself.