College visit tips: Slow down and stay awhile

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Lindsay Peterson-2By Lindsay Knox, Director of Undergraduate Admissions

I am an efficiency-driven person. I like things to be neat, clear-cut and quick. Recently we welcomed a family to our campus and they were my kind of people. We were their third campus visit of the day and they were on their way to a fourth. They had planned down to the minute how long they could spend on each campus tour and exactly what time they needed to be pulling out of the parking lot to make it to the next destination. This family had the college visit system down to a slick and organized operation, and the efficient person in me admired their “get-it-done” attitude.

However, as they walked away from our office and on to their last visit of the day, I couldn’t help but feel like for all they had accomplished in their day they had missed out on so much.

A college decision holds an incredible weight. Not only is an investment of money, it is an investment of four years of life and time. A one-hour tour with one student tour guide cannot even scratch the surface of whether or not that university is worth investing in. So, my advice is to slow down and stay awhile. Pick a few schools and spend real time at them. Here are three activities I think round out a college visit and will help show you what is beyond the campus tour.

1. Have lunch. I say this as more than a way to just try the food, although that may be an important factor to consider. I would recommend trying to have lunch with a current student. Most campuses have ambassadors or hosts who will help you navigate the dining options, and spend time talking to you about their experience while you eat. This will give you a look into campus culture and typical daily life.

2. Go to a class. It would be easy to assume that all college classes are the same, but the feel of a class can actually vary greatly depending on the size and educational philosophy of a school. I like to recommend going to a general-education level course rather than a highly specific upper-division class. That way you’ll get a good idea of what your first couple of years might look like in the classroom.

3. Spend the night. This is for the student who is really willing to invest some time to figure out if they fit. The residence halls are where campus life actually happens. This can look very different at nearly every university you might visit. Staying overnight with a current student can feel intimidating, but many schools offer big overnight events where you won’t be the lone visitor on campus.

Visiting campuses is the most beneficial activity you can take part in during your college search process, but I believe in quality over quantity. Spend time narrowing your options and figuring out which schools truly interest you. Then take the time to fully investigate them as options. Your goal should be to find the place where you will thrive.