Just 9 days till Spring Break (not like I’m counting)… And while the break is a time to enjoy some well-earned down time, it’s also a great time to make college visits. For starters, it is much better to visit colleges during the academic year, when you can sit in on classes, eat in the dining halls and meet with actual students and faculty. It gives you a chance to think about whether you’ll fit in academically and socially. Take note – are the students walking around wearing shoes, for example? If they’re not, are you ok with that? Are the professors wearing shoes, and if they’re not, are you ok with that? You get the idea – checking out schools while they are in session gives you a far more accurate sense of the college experience. That said, here are 10 other ways to maximize your time on campus.

1. Plan Ahead. Make an appointment on Destination U’s website in advance. School visits are well-choreographed marketing efforts by the admission’s officers and most schools have entire sections of their websites dedicated to ‘prospects.’ This is when the school is most interested in impressing you so this is your chance to ‘interview’ them. Take advantage of that opportunity by:

2. Arriving early, about an hour before you’re expected. This will give you the chance to get a feel for the place without the tour guide’s personal spin. Grab the campus newspaper and a cup of coffee at the campus center. Behave like a student… try to get a sense of what other students are reading, talking about and doing.

3. Interviewing on campus (if offered) – it will demonstrate that you are a motivated and legitimate candidate.

4. Sitting in on the Q&A. There’s often an ‘information session’ before the tour. Don’t blow it off. And you could treat these sessions like a pseudo-interview. In fact, keep in mind that whenever you are in the Admissions office it is an opportunity to make an impression. That doesn’t mean that you should dominate the conversation or make the conversation personal… it just means it’s a chance to stand out in a more informal setting.

5. Taking the tour. These are usually conducted by students and it is the best time for you to gather information about the social life on campus. You do not want to ask the Admissions officer about the Fraternities or the open canister policy. Direct those questions to student representatives, privately.

6. Ditching the tour (and maybe the parents). After you’ve seen the school through the school’s eyes, you should do your own recon. If possible, audit a class. If you wind up in a small class, it’s polite to let the professor know that you are there, but you don’t have to do that in a large lecture hall. Take a walk without your parents so you can feel like a college student. Let’s face it, walking around a college campus with your parents just screams HIGH SCHOOL!

7. Eating at the school. Partly to determine if the food is edible… but more importantly, it’s another opportunity to be where ‘real’ students congregate.

8. Asking for positive and ‘negative’ feedback about the school. Find out what the students like about the school and what they don’t like so much.

9. Making a ‘Specialty Appointment’. If you are in your high school band, make sure you meet the college’s band director. If you like theater, make sure you meet with someone in the performing arts department. On the swim team, meet the swim coach. And so on. These folks are going to help you get in; they can be your advocate and ally both with admissions and eventually, with financial aid. The more ‘inside’ support you have, the better!

10. Visiting the CAREER Center. Now this is an area that is not likely to be on the ‘usual’ tour. I know it seems crazy, but you want to know in advance what sorts of resources are available for you (a) while you’re a student and then (b) in your senior year when you may be looking for a job.

One final thought, your school visits should be well thought out, not haphazard. If you are doing a whole bunch of schools in a short time, make sure that you bring a notebook and/or your favorite handheld device and TAKE NOTES in real time. Trust me – after the first few days, things start to blur and you want to make sure you capture your initial impressions and feelings as they are happening. And finally, make sure that you send a handwritten thank you note to each and every individual whom you have met within a ‘reasonable’ time frame. Nothing you do will go further to help you stand out from an increasingly competitive and abundant applicant pool!

If you have any additional questions about your campus visits, please feel free to email us and we’ll try to respond promptly. In the interim, enjoy the trip!

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