"Go visit colleges," say counselors urging college bound students to get busy with their college prep. "It will help you decide if the school is a good fit." Counselors are not just talking academics. They know there are nonacademic factors that can drop a college off a student's college list faster than than their thumbs can text.
Why visit colleges
The printed word and videos from college brochures and websites don't tell the whole story. Much of it is based on advertising and statistics to grab parents' and students' attention. A visit can fact check and supply eye witness insider tips. Like any good consumer research, it is wise to check out an expensive educational purchase before submitting an application to buy.
Students want to find great academic and cultural programs and opportunities but they don't exist in a college prep bubble. It takes an in-person visit to learn about important nonacademic issues.
Top 5 reasons students visit colleges
While parents focus on what is important for them, students can concentrate on how well the college functions as a surrogate home for the next four to six years.
1. Location, location, location
- Walking the walk from residence halls to dining halls to academic buildings to the student center to the athletic complex will show how easy or hard it is to navigate the campus. The easier it is, the more likely students will maximize the school's resources. The campus, like college prep, doesn't exist in a bubble.
- Explore the local community. Find out what shopping, eating, recreational and work opportunities are available. Learn about the weather and the environment. If you plan to ride a bike to class but it rains daily, you love to ski but it never snows, you suffer from hay fever but the campus is a horticulturist's dream, it is best to prepare now and avoid nasty surprises.
- Another consideration is the level of difficulty and cost to arrange transportation for a visit home. Find out if the school closes its dorms during school breaks and between semesters and what options students have to secure storage units or temporary housing if they must stay in the area for an internship or job.
2. Suitcase colleges The weekend is here and you are ready to celebrate but there is no one around. Welcome to a suitcase college. If you want an active campus no matter the day, check attendance at various events and chat with current students to get the inside scoop.
3. Friendly faces Replace those smiling faces in college brochures with the real thing. As you walk around the campus, note current students' appearance and what they are doing. Do most wear jeans and the college's free T-shirt or designer apparel? Are they alone chatting on cell phones or interacting with each other? On the whole are they smiling, yawning or grim-faced?
4. Room and board Find out if housing is guaranteed throughout your college career. Investigate both on and off campus options. Learn about roommate policies -- how they are assigned and what to do if you need to switch. Check out transportation availability to get to and from campus or commuting for internships. Sample the food and find out about cooking options. Can you have your own fridge, microwave, hot plate or coffee pot in your room, or is there a mini-kitchen available for all student use?
5. Sixth sense Note your first impression of the campus, while touring and when you are leaving. Is it love at first sight or instant dislike? Even ambivalence will give you intangible but strong evidence about how well the school fits your needs. It doesn't matter if you can't explain your reaction if you can't envision yourself as a current student.
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