Fall means back-to-school; it also means time for high school seniors to squeeze in a few more college visits before submitting applications for admission.
From the colleges' standpoint, the more applications, the better; they allocate tremendous resources year-round to win a student's favor, and more importantly, a student's application.
To encourage more visits - and more applications - schools across the nation hold a variety of Open Houses during autumn, usually on Saturdays and over the Columbus or Veterans Day holiday weekends. They also may expand their weekly schedule of campus tours and admissions presentations and add special events and speakers.
One special event is a free visit program offered at a variety of campuses. These programs provide for a longer campus stay of two or three days. The overnight visits include meals, accommodations and in some cases, travel expenses; and allow time for attending classes, sampling dining hall food, sleeping in dorms and maybe even having an admissions interview.
What exactly does this mean?
Without a doubt, it means schools are laying out the welcome mat for underrepresented groups: first generation college students; lower-income students; and students from particular ethnic groups.
Ethnic diversity, in fact, is foremost. Some schools even limit their free visit programs to students who identify as African American, Latino, Pacific Islander or Native American, some of the most underrepresented ethnic groups on college campuses nationwide.
Alternatively, other schools use the general term "underrepresented groups." In the case of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, this includes females.
And a few schools have a very broad definition of diversity. Claudia Marroquin, from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, says, "We're looking for students from a variety of backgrounds, who have had a variety of experiences. We don't limit the type of diversity we are seeking to socioeconomic or ethnic diversity."
These other kinds of diversity might include geographic location, sexual orientation, life experiences, political views, cultural background and religion. Marroquin says Bowdoin considers many factors when reviewing a student's program application, which includes short essays as well as personal information regarding ethnicity and income.
Furthermore, some schools emphasize that they are not just looking for students who will help diversify the student body, but also for students who will support diversity on their campuses.
For example, Colby College in Waterville, Maine, states, "Colby values diversity of all kinds and seeks to enroll students who also value diversity." Underscoring that their visit program is open to all, Colby's application does not ask for any information regarding ethnicity or income.
Connecticut College in New London also does not require ethnic identification. Instead, Connecticut's application asks interested students to "share with us how you feel your experiences and background might contribute to the diverse community at Connecticut College" in a brief essay.
Essays, in fact, are a part of many of the applications. In most cases, transcripts and standardized test scores are also required, as well as a school counselor letter of recommendation. If travel expenses are not covered, students for whom the trip would present a hardship can usually apply for a travel scholarship.
There are several dozen colleges and universities around the country that offer a variation of free visit programs. Here are 18, with links to their websites and application deadlines to make planning a bit easier. Note that some programs have limited space, so apply early.
BATES COLLEGE, Lewiston, Maine
Prologue to Bates 2014, Oct 12-14 and Nov 9-11
Deadlines: Sep 3 (for Oct) and Oct 1 (for Nov)
BOWDOIN COLLEGE, Brunswick, Maine
Explore Bowdoin 2014, Oct 23-26
Deadline: Sep 22
BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, Waltham, Massachusetts
Students Exploring and Embracing Diversity (SEED) 2014, Nov 7-9
Deadline: Sep 15
CARLETON COLLEGE, Northfield, Minnesota
Taste of Carleton Fall 2014, Oct 30-Nov 1
Deadline: Sep 10
COLBY COLLEGE, Waterville, Maine
Experience Colby Visit Program, Oct 26-28
Deadline: Sep 19
CONNECTICUT COLLEGE, New London, Connecticut
Explore Weekend, Nov 8-10
Deadline: Oct 15
GRINELL COLLEGE, Grinell, Iowa
Diversity Preview Program, Sep 28-29
Deadline: Sep 1
KALAMAZOO COLLEGE, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Multicultural Fly-In Program, Nov 7-8
Deadline: Oct 10
LEWIS AND CLARK COLLEGE, Portland, Oregon
LEAD Program, Nov 9-11
Deadline: Oct 3
OBERLIN COLLEGE, Oberlin, Ohio
Access Oberlin, Nov 13-15, Nov 20-22 and Dec 4-6
Deadlines: Oct 20 (for Nov 13-15,) Oct 27 (for Nov 20-22) and Nov 10 (for Dec)
POMONA COLLEGE, Claremont, California
Fall Diversity Weekend, Oct 11-14, Nov 8-11
Deadlines: Sep 3 (for Oct) and Sep 29 (for Nov)
REED COLLEGE, Portland, Oregon
Deadline: Sep 25
RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, Troy, New York
STAR Program, Oct 16-18
Deadline: Sep 30
SMITH COLLEGE, Northampton, Massachusetts
Women of Distinction, Oct 17-19
Deadline: Sep 17
TRINITY COLLEGE, Hartford, Connecticut
Preview Weekend, Nov 9-10
Deadline: Oct 13
TUFTS UNIVERSITY, Medford, Massachusetts
Voices of Tufts Diversity Experience, Oct 23-24
Deadline: Oct 14
UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT, Burlington, Vermont
Discovering UVM, Oct 19-21, Oct 26-28 and Nov 2-4
Deadline: Oct 3 (for Oct 19-21) Oct 10 (for Oct 26-28) and Oct 17 (for Nov)
WHITMAN COLLEGE, Walla Walla, Washington
Visit Scholarship Program, Nov 9-11
Deadline: Sep 30