January 17, 2019
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
As you plan your pilgrimage to potential colleges this summer, I have some suggestions that will save you time and money. First, do your homework. Most admissions departments schedule a walking tour as a part of your visit to show you the buildings and the physical layout of the university. A guide will show you the important things such as where students spend the bulk of their time — the dorms, cafeterias, libraries, Starbucks and bookstores. Prior to your visit take the virtual tour that university website’s feature and prepare a list of questions for your guide.
Log on to the student newspaper. They usually have the crime figures on campus and other information that you will not find in the admissions office. This is also one of the best places to get a feel for the nuts and bolts of campus life — social, cultural and political. You should also search the website to see what emphasis they put on job recruitment fairs and internship opportunities.
Research, Research. Research!
campus visits can help narrow your college list
Once you have done your pre-campus visit research, it is time to pare down your list of potential colleges to no more than three or four. Do not plan to visit more than one of them a day. Unless the colleges are within a short driving distance of each other, it is almost impossible to glean much useful information on a brief tour. The most you can expect at many schools is a canned presentation from the admissions office and a student-led tour of the campus. You will seldom hear about the nitty-gritty details that will make or break your college experience.
This is why you need a plan.
Doing your homework before starting your tour means you will know what to look for when visiting the campus. If you know someone who will be on campus during the summer session, see if you can arrange to visit them and have them give you a guided tour. Promise them a meal out (students are always hungry) and ask them to bring along a friend so that you get an additional point of view. Most students will jump at the opportunity. They will tell you all you need to know and more. Ask them about the social and intellectual life on campus. Quiz them about the classes they are currently taking — or took — and what classes and which professors and classes to avoid like the plague during your freshman year.
When you do visit the admissions office, you need to grill them about important academic issues like the quality of their science programs, grad school prospects, percentages of graduates who go on to professional schools (law, business and medical) and ask them to name those schools. If they don’t have the numbers, that will tell you something in itself — they do not track the most important data on their graduates. See if your admissions counselor can set up a meeting with a top professor in your field of interest if at all possible. Some colleges will allow you to sit in on a class and I urge you to take advantage of this offer. A few schools will even let you be a student for a day and/or night. Also on the academic side, make sure you get a course catalog and check on requirements for graduation.
Look at club and organization websites and social media accounts, and perhaps you can meet with members of those organizations when you are on campus. Make sure that you check out financial aid opportunities while on your visit and document information about your experience. Make notes and take pictures so that you can refresh your memory about your experience.
Doing follow-up homework when you return home is important as well. Use the Internet to research alumni success, professor evaluations, etc. This is where your documentation will come in handy.
Your choice of a college home is one of the most important you will make. Your decision will shape your career opportunities so plan ahead and make the most of your time on each campus.
Gerald Bradshaw is one of America's best college consultants.
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