Visiting Campuses: Not to be Taken Lightly

Over the past two months, I’ve visited 22 campuses in the states of Ohio, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania (that’s why this newsletter is later than usual!).

It reminded me of a few important things regarding campus visits and the selection process in general.  Here are some suggestions to help you get the most from your upcoming trips.

Dig deep

In addition to considering the look and feel of a campus and surrounding area, I encourage students and their families to dig a bit deeper, before they decide whether or not to keep a particular college on their list.

It’s no longer good enough to simply graduate from a college if your student hopes to land a great job. Employers care about what you did during those four (or more) years and they expect to see evidence of your experiences and accomplishments. So spending time and energy on making a good choice that allows your child to be successful is important.

Touring campuses involves more than it once did as well. If you are traveling far from home, it’s important to leave more time to explore, as it may not be easy to get back for subsequent visits.

Make sure your child takes advantage of opportunities to sit in on a class, have lunch with a student and sit down with a faculty member in their particular area of interest (make an appointment beforehand).  Have them spend some unstructured time on campus as well, in the dining hall, the student center and out on the quad (weather permitting).

Get off the beaten path

It’s so important to get beyond the canned presentations offered by the student tour guides who work for the admissions department.  These are helpful, certainly, but they only represent “the official” point of view.

That’s why I always suggest that students try to engage in conversation withother kids. I find kids around campus are eager to talk and they are happy to speak honestly and answer questions.

Ask them: Do you like it here? Why? Would you apply again if you were starting over? What things would you like to change? Do your professors know your name? What is life like on the weekends? Is Greek Life big here? Are there enough things to do here socially if I don’t drink? Are kids here serious about their education? How are your classes different than your high school classes? What other schools were you considering and why did you choose here? Have you done an internship, had a chance to study abroad or do any undergrad research? Have you worked with the career services department? Was there enough support to help you make a smooth transition as a freshman? And the list goes on!

Get the facts

One of my goals in assessing a particular school is to get answers to the information below.  Often, it requires piecing together data from admissions or faculty conversations, searching websites, or making follow-up phone calls.

It is the rare student who will be able to gather all this information on their own,so plan on stepping in as the parent.  Be aware, however, of firing off too many questions during your visit, as this may make your child uncomfortable and detract from their campus experience.  (Your student tour guide will not know the answers to many of these questions and some are best saved for staff.)

Class Sizes: average and how big are the freshman introductory classes?

Housing: What percent of student live on campus? Is housing guaranteed? Are there issues with overcrowding that necessitate forced triples or living off campus as a freshman or sophomore?

Faculty: What percent are full time? What percent have their terminal degree? (There are some instances though where it is a plus to have some faculty that are currently working in the field and teaching – especially in the fields of arts and entertainment, etc.)

Cost: What is the cost of attendance? What percentage of students receive need-based and merit-based awards? What is an average package? What is the average student debt at graduation?

Academic Support: What services are available for all students and for students with a documented disability? Are services offered by peers, graduate students or staff?

Freshman Transition: What is offered to help new students adjust to the academic and social demands of college life?

Internships: What percentage of students do one or more? Are they paid or for credit? Does the school help arrange them?

Retention Rate: How many students come back for their sophomore year?

Graduation Rate: in 4 years! If they can’t tell you what it is in 4 years, that is not a great sign unless they are a school with a Co-op program (e.g., Northeastern, RIT, Drexel) or a school with many 5 year combination Bachelor/ Master’s programs.

Outcomes: What are the statistics for how many students are employed in their field or attending grad school 6 months after graduation. (and what percent of students answered the survey!)

Remember, visiting a campus can be fun, but it requires planning, focus and attention to make the most of it. Start with a few schools that are not likely to be a great fit, to get warmed up.  You’ll be campus tour pros in no time!

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