It’s that time of year again, when high school juniors and seniors hit the road for a marathon tour of college after college after college.
I wrote an article for the Post’s Travel section this weekend and listed off some tips for making these visits less cookie cutter and more fun, which prompted the sharing of even more tips from readers. Here are a few (and you can share your own in the comments section below):
Contact a professor: Several readers suggested sitting in on classes or meeting with a professor who specializes in something that matches your interests. One online commenter wrote that high school students should search the department Web pages for the major or majors they are considering, “then when you find professors doing research in or teaching what you are interested in, then email them, tell them you are interested in something similar, and ask if you can meet briefly with them during a campus visit.”
Ask about adjuncts: College tour guides love to boast about their school’s low student-to-faculty ratio, and that none of their classes are taught by teaching assistants. But what about adjunct professors, who are increasingly being used as a low-cost way to fill out the teaching ranks at many schools? One of my Twitter followers pointed out that faculty working conditions often affect student learning.
Get a local tour guide: An online commenter suggests that “the best plan, if you can manage it, is to dig up someone you know — even peripherally — who goes to the college in question and ask to hang out with them for part of a day and check out their classes, have lunch with them in the dining hall, etc.”
Be realistic in making your list of schools to visit: Sit down with your parents for a frank conversation about grades, career goals, grades and test scores. If you can’t afford to attend a college that’s only accessible by a long plane ride, then stick to schools in your region. If all of your grades are Bs and Cs, chances are you should not be looking at Ivy League institutions. If you want to play sports in college and aren’t already a superstar, maybe best to focus on Division III schools instead of Division I. If you want to be an engineer, make sure you look at schools with strong engineering programs.
And don’t be afraid to also check out schools in your own backyard, including community colleges, which are often a more affordable way to spend your first two years.
Find information in places other than brochures: Read the student newspaper. Follow school-related Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr accounts. An online commenter suggested the Web site whatwilltheylearn.com. And Frank Burtnett, author of the Bound-for-College Guidebook adds this advice: “I like to encourage visitors to find the biggest bulletin board in the student union or campus center and spend about 10 minutes giving it a thorough examination. Everything the students want each other to know seems to find its way to this centralized dissemination center.”
If you feel like doing some detective work, one of my Facebook subscribers also suggested taking a look at budgets for the past 30 years, paying special attention to the direction and speed of funding for undergraduate education.
Keep notes of some sort: After your fifth or 10th or 20th campus visit, schools tend to blend together. So jot down all of your thoughts in a notebook, e-mail yourself a highlight list or take lots of photos.
Again, this is your college education. While the opinions of your parents, siblings, relatives, significant others, best friends, distant friends and co-workers are likely valuable, make sure that you are making this decision for yourself. Take ownership. Send your own e-mails. Book your own tours. Ask your own questions.
Check out the after-hours scene: So much of what happens at college, happens after dark. And I’m not just talking about drinking and parties (which you should avoid if you are under 21). Check out eateries that are open 24-7, late-night sports leagues, library study rooms or dorm lounge movie marathons.
Remember, you aren’t the only one visiting. March and April are the busiest months of the year for most admissions offices, so realize they might not be able to fulfill all of your requests, especially those for private tours or meetings with famous faculty members.
Wear comfortable shoes. Many college campuses are vast and sprawling, so a walking tour can often last an hour or two and cover more than a mile of territory. “You should definitely dress nicely but comfortably,” Rick Clark, Georgia Tech’s director of undergraduate admission, told me in an e-mail. “Bringing your own water bottle is not a bad idea either, as not all schools will supply water on tours.”
Meet some real students: I keep hearing this advice over and over again. I realize that it can be intimidating to introduce yourself to a stranger (or embarrassing to have your parent do so). One idea is to attend a class and strike up a conversation with those sitting near you. Or look through an online directory of student clubs and reach out to the leaders of groups that interest you.
Dan Chambliss, a sociology professor at Hamilton College in New York is studying how students learn in a liberal arts environment. His advice is to talk with students who “aren’t paid by the Admission Office or suggested by the coach who’s recruiting you. Just walk around by yourself for an hour or two, seeing the people you’ll be hanging around with. Ask Yourself: Do I want to spend four years, day and night, with these folks?”
UPDATE: This post was updated on Tuesday afternoon to include tips on dealing with crowds, dressing comfortably and meeting real students.
What tips do you have? Please share them in the comments section below. And for more higher education news, you can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook. And here are some other articles that might be of interest: