With my apologies to our regular readers (and to Jill, who hates when I do this), I’m about to contradict myself… sort of. Here’s why: I’ve often said that the best way for a prospective student to get a real feel for a college is to visit its campus while in session… as in when it’s bustling with real students, professors, campus life etc. Therefore, it would make sense if I told you that taking a college road trip during the quieter summer is probably less than an ideal time. But…
…There are exceptions. First, it’s convenient. And not only that, more and more colleges are offering ‘true’ summer sessions (UF, FSU) where the campus is filled with actual students taking real classes. Perhaps more importantly though, summer visits — if planned properly — can be perfect timing for a prospective student to leave a lasting impression. I can’t stress enough how important the ‘Little Things’ — like networking, writing great essays, seeking and acing an interview, sending a hand-written thank you note following said interview–have become in an Admissions and Funding process that while facilitated by technology, still comes down to regular people making decisions about other people. If you want to help your student stand out this Fall, and move the needle on her admissions and funding offers this Spring… it won’t hurt to Show Up this Summer. Nothing says I love you to a school as much as making it to their campus (especially if you’re traveling outside our state). And since ‘showing up’ is a big investment of your time and your money, I suggest you make sure you get a sufficient return. To ensure that you do so, I’ve included tips at the end of this email that will help you maximize your family’s time on campus.
Now, what if you can’t… show up in person that is. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of opportunities to make an impression this summer without ‘being there’. First, get in touch. And by get in touch, I mean have your student (not you) reach out to the Admissions offices of the schools that they are considering. Most schools have a ‘regional’ reader, one person who is in charge of sorting, meeting and yes, advocating for students from a particular part of the country. Have your child find out who his ‘reader’ will be and have him introduce himself to that reader – either by phone or email. Start a conversation. Sign up to receive information. Visit the school’s portal (they check!!!). Demonstrate interest! If your child has a particular specialty, have them reach out to the person or people who are in charge of that specialty on Campus. Admissions offices are in full ‘recruiting mode’ in the summer. They’re selling… and receptive to queries from internal advocates who are seeking to build their next class. So now, while its quieter, is a great time for your child to engage the Band leader, the Squash Coach, the Chair of the Robotics program or the Head of the Fine Arts department. Not only can these people become important on-campus surrogate advocates for your child, they often have insight that you won’t find printed in the brochure or on the portal.
And speaking of ‘insider insights’, I’m really excited about the schools that Jill and I will be visiting this summer. As most of you know, Jill and I also take advantage of the quieter summer to meet with Admissions and Financial Aid Officers at colleges from all across the country. We’re always pleased with the willingness of these Deans and Administrators to share with us specific details about the types of students they’re coveting, the criteria they’re using both in Admissions and Financial Aid decisions and the challenges they may be facing. This is often inside information that we’ve been happy to share with our readers. In years past, we’ve criss-crossed the Northeast… from Barnard to Boston College and many points in between. Click here to read about our past trips and some of our visits. As for this summer, we’re starting off at some perennial favorites on The Tobacco Road (Duke and UNC), but we’re also very privileged to be hosted at some of my favorite colleges (competitive, beloved and generous) that are lesser well-known. including High Point University, Elon and Gettysburg. We leave in mid-July and I’ll be posting insights from each school while on the road.
And if you’re planning your own college trip, here are some tips for maximizing your campus visits.
1. Plan Ahead. Make an appointment on Destination U’s website in advance. Summer is vacation time, and you might want to try to schedule your visit when you know that your region’s Admissions representative will be on campus. Regardless, all school visits are well-choreographed marketing efforts by the Admissions office. Your visit is a time when the school is trying its hardest to impress you. Take advantage of that opportunity and:
2. Arrive 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. Hopefully there’s some life on campus… so behave like a student…try to get a sense of what other students (presuming they’re actual students) are reading, talking about and doing.
3. Interview on campus (if offered) – it will demonstrate that you are a motivated and legitimate candidate.
4. Sit in on the Q&A. There’s often an ‘information session’ before or after 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. Take 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. Ditch 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 there’s one going on during the summer.. 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.
7. Eat at the school. Partly to determine if the food is edible… but more importantly, it’s another opportunity to be where ‘real’ students congregate, even if it is only Summer session.
8. Ask 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. Make 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. Visit the CAREER Center. Now this is an area that wasn’t on our tours a few years back but is now becoming a highlight (or at least a mention) at most schools we’ve seen. I know it might seem a little crazy to your student, but you want them to know in advance what sorts of resources are available for them (a) while a student and then (b) in their senior year when they’ll be looking for a job.
One final thought, your school visits should be well thought out, preferably while school’s in session (even if it is a summer session) and 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!