As Assistant Dean of Recruitment and Retention, Noah Pittman arranges customized personal visits and recruitment events, visits high school classes, and supports teachers and counselors who assist students in applying for selective programs and scholarships. He recently completed a doctoral degree in public policy at the U of A, and has participated in the College Board’s enrollment leadership academy, a monthly professional development program for “rising stars” in admissions, enrollment management and financial aid. Between campus visits, recruitment events and college fairs, he interacts with over 1,000 students and their families each year.
For many high school seniors, choosing a college seems like the “make or break” moment in their lives. If you pick the “right” school, you will have this glorious experience you see in the movies that leads to gainful employment, vacations in exotic locales and that dream house on the end of a cul-de-sac. Pick the “wrong” school, though, and life won’t be nearly as grand as it could have been. Seems like a lot of pressure, right?
Well, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to choosing a college. The good news? There are a lot of fantastic options out there for students planning to go to college. The bad news? There are a lot of fantastic options out there for students planning to go to college. For most students, a key component of the college decision is the campus visit. To help students get the most they can out of these visits, I offer a few tips:
Tip #1: Choose a reasonable number of schools to visit.
What’s reasonable? For some students, it’s a couple of schools. For others, it’s a month-long, coast-to-coast trip. I recommend keeping the visits to a maximum of six after carefully considering what you’re looking for in a college experience. Here are some basic questions to ask yourself when you’re choosing schools to visit:
- What type of campus am I looking for? Top research institution? Small liberal arts college? Flagship university with great sports teams? There are a number of different institutional types and with each there are advantages and disadvantages. Learn about those and think about a) what’s the best fit for you and b) how flexible you are.
- Do I want to live in a traditional college town? A rural area? Maybe a large city? In that same vein, how close do I want to be to home?
- Which schools actually offer the major(s) I am considering?
There are a million other questions you need to consider when choosing a college, but if a campus does not fit into the three responses you give to the questions above, it’s probably not worth the time and effort to make a visit.
Tip #2: Visit on a weekday during the fall semester.
For a lot of families, the most convenient time to visit is during the summer or on a weekend. A word to the wise: Visit a college on a weekday during the fall semester. That’s when you’ll get to see a campus in full swing, and you’ll have a far better chance of meeting with key faculty and staff members.
Also, plan well ahead when scheduling your visit. The vast majority of weekday campus visits take place on Mondays and Fridays, particularly around holiday weekends and school breaks. If the school you’re looking at is even moderately supportive of its football team, Fridays in the fall will be really, really packed and it may be a tad bit difficult to find hotel rooms when a home game is scheduled. Be sure to plan accordingly.
Tip #3: If possible, try to attend a major campus event.
When choosing a day to visit, do a little research and find out what’s considered a “big event” at the school that’s open to both students and the general public. For some schools, a big campus event may be a major sporting event. For others, there may be a guest lecturer or performance that is designed to appeal to a wide audience. Try your best to get to one of these events, and if you can find a current student who will accompany you, even better. This will be the best way to learn about the “campus culture” and whether it’s a good fit for you.
Tip #4: Take advantage of all aspects of the visit.
Optional tour of a residence hall? Great! Chance to meet with an academic advisor in your major? Even better! The standard campus visit includes a tour of campus and some general admissions presentation. At a number of colleges, including the University of Arkansas, you can add to this with a lot of optional experiences, ranging from meeting with an Honors College representative to taking a special tour of a student recreation facility. Plan to spend the entire day on a campus so that you get the full experience. And yes, if the admissions office at the school offers free meal tickets to a dining hall, definitely take the opportunity to sample the cafeteria fare –– some schools are better than others when it comes to daily chow.
Tip #5: Don’t leave until you understand all parts of the application process.
Although there are some similarities among colleges when it comes to admissions applications, there is always some variation in what’s expected, deadlines, etc. Before you leave campus, make sure you know the answers to all the different processes, including general admissions, scholarships/financial aid, housing, orientation, and anything else you can think of regarding your admission. This will head off a ton of anxiety later down the road in the admissions process.
Tip #6: Have time to grab dinner near campus? Go local.
Skip the chain restaurant near campus and try something local. This is your best opportunity to learn about the community where you may spend the next four years. Ask someone at the university for suggestions – I always have a few suggestions up my sleeve based upon what they want for dinner. Remember that admissions people like me want you to have a good experience during your entire visit, so we will steer you in the right direction.
Tip #7: Relax. Enjoy the experience.
This is your time to learn and start considering where to spend the next four years of your life. The college admissions process can be stressful, but the campus visit shouldn’t be. Remember, the college you’re looking at is putting a lot of time, effort, and manpower into getting you interested in their institution. At this point, we’re trying to sell you on attending our institution, not vice versa. Unless you’re also interviewing during your visit, dress comfortably (make sure to check the weather before leaving!) and wear comfortable shoes for walking around.
So there. I hope these tips help you have campus visits that are simultaneously fulfilling and productive. As I mentioned earlier, you have a lot of fantastic options for college . . . now it’s time to go learn more about those institutions.