Happy spring break! (Or happy almost spring break...hang in there!) Ahhh...I love this time of year. Everyone gets to leave town and sit on the beach to calm their nerves, coming back to school feeling refreshed, recharged, and rejuvenated, which totally sets them up for performing amazingly on their SATs, ACTs, finals, and AP tests. I can practically feel those beachy breezes now.
Oh, wait, what was that? You’re NOT going to bask under coconut and banana trees in your hammock on the sand with a (virgin) cocktail in hand? That’s right. You’re in high school, so you’re not going on vacation, you're going on…COLLEGE VISITS!
Sorry, friend. This might not be the most recharging time away from school imaginable, but you can still have an incredibly fun—and productive—time! Here are my top tips for your college visits, the type of things that I wish I could go back in time and make my fall semester seniors do over so our application essays would move along much more smoothly.
College Visit Tip #1) Say “Yes!”
Do you want to take a tour? Say “Yes!” Do you want to have an “optional” interview while you’re on campus? Heck YES! Did you want to sit in on a class that happens to be in session during your visit? Again, resounding YES!
If you are given opportunities to learn more about the college or university, nothing screams “I’m interested!” more than taking the time to do all the things offered to you. And don't you think colleges notice if you're interested, both on campus and in your application? Say it with me: YES.
College Visit Tip #2) Ask Tons of Questions
By the time you leave your campus visit, you need to know if you want to apply and would like it there. Don't wait to make those decisions when you get home—presuming you do a good job of information-gathering while you're on campus, any additional thinking will almost certainly just be time-wasting churn. Here are some general areas to sleuth:
What majors or concentrations do they offer that align with what I’m interested in? Is there a core curriculum? What is it? Are there special features to the curriculum that are unique to this college? Freshman seminar series? Or culminating senior thesis? What are they? Is this a university where I have to apply to a specific college? If so, which one would it be? Is there a separate application process or essay? Would I be able to study the other things I want to study if they were in a different college at the same university?
Do they have a club/class/team for your main extracurricular interests? If not, how easy is it to start your own club? Do they have study abroad opportunities? Do they have career services/alumni networks and can they help hook you up with internships in your desired field? What type of student would be happy there? Is there a common personality trait or “type” of student who attends this college?
Admissions (let your parents ask these!)
What’s required for this college or university? What score range for the SAT or ACT? The Essay/Writing component of it? Subject Tests? Test Optional? Do they super-score? When is Early Decision? Is there an ED2? Is there Early Action? When’s Regular Decision?
College Visit Tip #3) Take (Copious) Notes!
Do you remember the answers you got from all those questions you just read? You do? Well, I promise you, you WON’T when it’s 7 months later and you’re writing that college’s supplemental essay on “Why College X?”—especially not after you visit this school AND a dozen others. You’ll start to mix them up in your head, TRUST ME.
So write down everything. Maybe you can’t write things down while you’re taking a walking tour, but you can afterwards when you collect your thoughts.
Other thoughts to collect in a notebook: Who did you talk to? What were their names? What were the names of the building/programs/classes/professors that stood out to you? What was the vibe of the students and faculty you met?
College Visit Tip #4) If you didn’t like this college or university, WHY?
Want to save a ton of time and possibly get to enjoy a few days of actual vacation next time? If you hated the school and just KNEW it wasn’t for you, articulate why. Like, give yourself 15 minutes of silence to reflect and write in your notebook about why it didn’t fit. If you hate large universities with separate colleges that you can’t easily maneuver between, then that’s great! Now you know not to travel and visit other universities like that. A simple internet search will save you a couple days of your life!
Putting these tips into practice will help you make good decisions that you don't have to second-guess when you get home.
If you use them, you can wrap up your spring break with your list of colleges pretty much all set and a solid head start on your application essays! And take it from an expert: that will do as much to take the pressure off the second half of your semester as any beach vacation.