How to Plan Your College Visits: Getting Started

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 6/11/15 11:31 AM

large_size_GilmoreGirls_S3ep08_1_640x360Rory from Gilmore Girls visits Yale. Most of us aren't lucky enough to have a grandpa alumni.

For all rising juniors and seniors, this is the season to take the first step in the college application process – planning your college visits. Remember, this is your first opportunity to examine a range of colleges and their first chance to get a look at you. It’s important to take a deep breath and think about your ideal college experience in fine grain. In this series, we’ll present some basic tips and tricks for making the most of your campus visits, including how to plan effectively and what to do once you get there.

First Step: Be Introspective

There are over 4,000 degree granting institutions in the United States, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the options.  From my experience as a college admissions consultant in New York, the first thing I have students do is a seemingly very basic exercise – take a step back, and actually think about what you might want from a college or university.   Without this initial brainstorming session, you can end up with some illogical college lists that don’t make sense for you.

You might get at this with a quick free-writing exercise.  Try starting lists of important criteria for you.  The following is just a start, but the more thought you give your “ideal college experience” the better off you’ll be.

  • Major: Ask yourself if you already know the type of subject you’ll want to study.  For instance, if you know you want an engineering program with internship possibilities in a major city, it won’t make much sense to spend time on a lot of liberal arts colleges in the middle of the country.
  • Location: Are you dying to experience a big city, like New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, or are crowds simply overwhelming to you?  

A few initial campus tours are often your chance to begin to answer some of these questions for yourself.  But if you can answer just one of these truthfully – and with no parental influence! – you’ll be well on your way to a well-ordered college list.

Why You (Not Your Parents) Should Plan College Visits

It’s true – parental enthusiasm for college tours very often overshadows that of the actual applicant.  (We won’t get into why!)  But truth be told, the application season is full of tasks where it is imperative for students to be doing their own work. This is your first low-stakes chance to give it a try.  When you do your own research on colleges, write your own letters of introduction, and plan your own itineraries, you take so much more ownership over the process.  This is crucial and really shows when it comes time to draft application essays.  Regardless of what you might think, everyone can tell when a parent pretends to be his or her child in an email, a phone call, or an essay.  And note:  this works AGAINST you!

Do College Visits Even Matter?

The truth is – it depends.  While many colleges do keep track of names and addresses for students who make campus visits, request information, correspond with faculty, students, and admissions officers, much of this information is just used for mailing brochures and application reminders.  When it comes down to real admissions decisions, these records can be used to strengthen borderline cases, but they rarely make or break a candidate.  

Ultimately, you make these trips in order to make you a stronger applicant with a thoughtful, more tailored set of essays.  College admissions tours can’t be seen as just another task to complete before you submit the app – because then they’re worthless.  Rather, the more you decide to soak in the atmosphere, the energy of the campus, the attitude of the typical student, the more honestly you’ll be able to assess whether or not you want to invest the time to craft a careful and convincing application.

So give these campus visit brainstorming tips a try – or get in touch with us if you’d like some help walking through it.  And keep an eye out for our next installment in this series with some more actionable items for planning your visit and making the most of your time once you’re on campus.

Looking for more tips on the college admissions process? Check out these posts written by our college consultants and coaches in NYC and Boston: What Should I Write My Personal Statement About?, How Juniors and Seniors Can Take Action Today, and How Lists Can JumpStart the Personal Statement

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Tags: college admissions