Imagine you’re going on your first college visit. You’re stopping by the admission office. You’re touring the campus with a student who walks backwards--backwards!--the entire time. You’re trying the food. You’re...you’re…
Well, you’re not exactly sure what else you should do. And why would you be? Visiting colleges is not an activity that lends itself to practice. It’s more like on-the-job training. The good news is that you’ll learn as you go along. You’ll be more prepared for your second visit because you’ll know what you wish you had done on your first. The even better news is that there are some terrific resources to help you plan a successful college visit in advance.
This post isn’t one of them.
Most college visit advice focuses on the immediately practical: Ask the admission office what activities are available to you. Check to see if appointments are needed in advance. Leave plenty of time for parking. Take pictures. Take notes. And above all else, talk to people outside the admission office.
The most obvious candidates are students. No one else can tell you what it’s like to live and study at a particular college, so seize the opportunity. (Don’t know what to ask? Try “What surprised you about this place?” The answer never disappoints.) Beyond students, professors are a close second. But who else?
That’s where this advice comes in. Here are five groups of people that each have a unique perspective on campus life and can be an unexpectedly rich source of information.
Reference Librarians: Ask a student what classes are like, and you’ll get one person’s viewpoint. Ask a reference librarian, and you’ll tap the insight of someone with an unparalleled view of academic life across the institution. These folks know what types of assignments professors give, how prepared students are to tackle them, and how engaged students are in their learning.
Campus Police Officers: Campus police see everything. They know what happens at three in the afternoon and three in the morning, at sporting events and in residence halls. Whether you have specific concerns about safety or more general questions about the prevalence and degree of mischief on campus, a police officer can help.
Dining Hall Staff: Everybody eats. If you want to understand the character of the student body, ask these employees about how students treat them and the facilities in which they work.
Student Affairs Officers: This is not so much one category of experts as several groups of sub-experts. Student affairs encompasses areas like diversity and inclusion, career counseling, Greek life, service learning, residence life, student activities, health and wellness, and campus ministry. If you want to know how engaged students are outside the classroom and how you can get involved in activities that matter to you, these are the people to ask. Their enthusiasm for their work is infectious. Let them share it with you.
Financial Aid Counselors: A visit to the financial aid office should go hand-in-hand with a visit to the admission office. Whether you plan on applying for need-based aid or want to explore scholarship opportunities, you should make a point of speaking with a financial aid counselor. You will be surprised at how eager these people are to help you understand a complex process.
Are these the only people worth talking to? Not by a long shot–but they’re a good place to start. Make the most of the time you have on campus, and then reach out to the people you missed when you get home.The most welcoming and engaged colleges know that every single person on the campus plays a role in helping you understand what their community is about and how you can fit into it. All you need to do is ask.
(For more information on college visits and the college search in general, visit the Common App Virtual Counselor.)