By Dr. Mark L. Fisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
What happens when you are ready to buy a house? Probably you look at a picture of the house. Maybe you see the house online. Would you plunk down $200,000 to $400,000 without ever seeing the house and finding out about the neighborhood, the schools, the synagogues and the supermarkets within so many miles?
Just think about the time spent on buying a car. Some individuals go from dealership to dealership.
The problem is that some students don’t spend as much time researching colleges as they might spend someday looking over a house or car. True, there are students who put in a great deal of time researching colleges, and some families explore colleges in detail. After all, we are talking about a $200,000 investment, regardless of whether the family or financial aid pays the bill.
But many families don’t investigate colleges to any appreciable degree. The name is the game.
When should one visit colleges? The summer is a good time because the student is not in school and does not miss class, and for some parents it is easier to get away between June and August. There is a disadvantage as well because the usual undergraduates are not on campus.
Preliminary visits can be followed up by more intensive visits when students narrow down their acceptances. Students have been admitted, so they can visit and be relaxed.
A visit should have two major objectives: an interview and a tour of the school. Interest in a college is an important factor from the point of view of the admissions office.
I know of one school in a major city where the following might occur. A student in that city doesn’t attend an informational tour of the college during the final two years of high school. The college will note that fact in the student’s folder, and that could seal a disappointing admissions decision. The college’s attitude is that the student wasn’t interested in us, so why should we be interested in the student?
If a student from California doesn’t visit a college in New York, no harm done. The college is not next door. The college understands.
Should a student visit a college alone? With parents? With a friend? That may be a family decision.
Going with a parent or parents has advantages. Parents may notice things that the student doesn’t see on a tour. Because the parents will be the ones footing the eventual college costs, they too would like to see what they are buying. And the student and parents can have more of a discussion because both have visited the same institution.
What about a friend? Not a bad idea, but beware. What if you follow the advice of your friend more often than not, and your friend has a negative attitude on the visit and points out everything he or she doesn’t like about the college? Will you put down the college because your friend feels that way? Perhaps the friend’s assessment is correct for the friend, but that doesn’t mean the college is not good for you.
Colleges have tours on a regular basis. Student tour guides work for the admissions office. Don’t judge 2,000 to 20,000 students on the basis of one student you happen not to adore. On one visit, a student told me about language used by the tour guide that was not appreciated.
Don’t be on your cellphone on the tour. That is not proper etiquette.
While your guide is giving you the college tour, you might notice some unmentioned things about the campus. How friendly are the students who walk past you? What notices are on the bulletin boards? In the library, what are the students doing? Taking out books? Studying in the stacks? Just relaxing?
Pick up the student newspaper. Perhaps chat for a moment with a student. If you see a campus police officer, ask about the crime rate on campus or nearby.
Don’t expect the tour guide to tout burglaries and more. Once while visiting a campus and hearing how safe it was all the time, I picked up the student newspaper and read about a recent crime on that campus.
Are students using the student union? Where are the most popular hangouts? Are you seeing the best dormitory there as the model room? Does the school not want to show you where you may reside?
Are the athletic facilities nearby? Is the campus walkable, or do you need to take a bus to get around?
Think of all the things you want to see before your visit. After the tour, you can seek out the places that you wanted to see but that were not pointed out on the tour or where you would want to spend more time.
When walking on the tour, notice the upkeep of the buildings. Look for construction, computer availability and the size of classrooms. Keep your eyes open and look around. Stay near your tour guide because if you lag behind, you might not hear what the guide has to tell you.
Visit the buildings that are appropriate to your major. Don’t expect the tour to cover every building. Where is Hillel? Does Hillel have its own building or just an office? No, the tour guide is not going to stop at Hillel.
Visit Hillel to find out more about Jewish life on campus. Make an appointment with the Hillel director or one of the Hillel staff. If you keep kosher, take a look at the dining facility. How many meals per week? Is kosher food on the dining plan? Does it cost extra? Fresh food or airline-type meals?
Where are the Shabbat services you would desire to attend? How often are services provided? Do all students, regardless of which service they attend, eat together at a Shabbat meal?
You may want to explore another Jewish student group, Chabad. This organization is on many campuses and keeps growing.
If a college offers individual interviews, go for it. But be prepared. Know the college, its offerings, its extracurricular activities and its philosophy. Have questions ready for the interviewer.
Don’t ask how many fraternities and sororities are on campus; that question only proves that you can’t read because it is easy to find the answer. If your question is anything in the Greek venue, ask whether the fraternities and sororities control social life on campus.
Ask intelligent questions, showing the interviewer that you are an intelligent person. In my educational consulting practice, we prepare for those interviews because there are only a few times you can give a subjective picture of yourself and sell yourself. (The other major time is the essay.) Let’s hope your recommenders do not just state your extracurricular activities, which the college can read on your application.
After a college visit, record your impressions of your time on campus. Keep a list of the positives and negatives. This list will help when you compare colleges before making a decision as to where you want to enroll.
When visiting a college, ask whether a prospective student may sit in on a class, meet a professor in a field of interest, talk to students, and not only walk on the campus, but ride or walk around the college’s neighborhood. One site to use is goseecampus.com; it will aid you in planning your visits.
Thinking about visiting colleges? Perhaps you have already started your trips, or maybe you should start.
Dr. Mark Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants (www.fishereductionalconsultants.com) and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (www.GotoCPI.com).