Once you enter your junior year, school breaks become less about draining your mind of everything related to your classes and become a golden (and one of your only) opportunities to tour colleges. Sure, there’s always summer, but what makes a college tour important is not the academic information session (you can find out test requirements on their website). On any college tour, you will have two main goals. One of these is to answer the question “Do I want to spend four or more years of my life here?” and the other is to determine what sets this college apart from the others on the long list of potential schools that you have.
To address the first question, you will need to understand that a college is almost like a country— each one has its own distinct culture, traditions, and atmosphere. Are you looking for an urban, suburban, or a rural school? Are you looking for a small liberal arts college with an undergraduate class of 900 people, or a larger research institution with a pool of 30,000 students? These are, of course, statistics that you can find upon researching the name of the school, but what google won’t be able to give you is the feeling of being on the campus. If you are given the opportunity of a three day weekend or a week-long break, and you ask yourself “should I go to visit all of these colleges,” the answer will always be yes. There are schools which, after looking at the first three google images that pop up, I decided I would not even consider applying. These are the same schools that I actually placed on my potential list after visiting.
The second question will not only help you decide on a college, it will also help you get in. If a particular college excels in an area that you are interested in, be sure to spend extra time touring that department, taking photos and notes, talking to students, and then that night when you get home write up a quick list of things that you liked and noticed where different from other colleges you toured. Why? Well, while this will help you actually decide on a school, it also serves a far more important role: this will be your golden ticket once you have to answer the dreaded supplement question, “Why did you pick our college?” Because you were the one who invested extra time in researching and exploring the school, you will be able to write a compelling, short essay about why you chose to apply to the institution. Don’t fall into the mistake of copy—pasting the same supplement essay into multiple applications; apart from forgetting to replace “UC LA” with “Syracuse,” you will run the risk of sounding vague and uninterested. An added bonus is if the college offers specialized tours in departments (as opposed to a general campus walk-around). Writing about how you spent two hours walking around the engineering department with a current student will help you far more than the generic “this college is the ideal place for me because….” You can even (actually, you probably should) talk about the visit and the students you met during the college interview (if your college requires one). If the only thing you get out of this article is the idea of writing these short post-visit college summaries, then it will be worth your time.
So, your visit to any college should look roughly like this:
- Information Session
- Campus Tour
- Taking photos
- Department Tour (Like an “Engineering” or “Humanities” tour, if they are offered)
- Speaking with students and professors. Some colleges even offer one on one tours with other students, and if this is available, it’s a must.
- Getting home and writing down everything you like/dislike, and anything you feel you could mention on your supplement essay.
If you have read this and feel at all overwhelmed, then know that there really is no reason to be. Assuming you are a junior or younger, it is still early (if you’re a senior, then congrats! you’re decisions are probably already coming in). Even if all you do during the month of march is plan out a college visits over April break and early summer, then you are in a strong position. Just keep in mind that you should write everything down. It seems like it would be easy to remember all the colleges you’ve visited, but it can usually be hard to write down your ideas about the school the night after you visit, let alone 8 months from now when you write your application.