With all the craziness of holiday plans and travel behind us, probably the last thing on everyone’s mind is planning another trip. But, in the world of college admissions, this is actually just the right time to be making more travel plans.
The college tour bonanza is spring break of a student’s junior year. Visiting colleges is one of the most effective ways to find a good fit for you. The more visits the better, time and resources permitting. In this column, I will explain what you need to know to get the most from your visits.
As with any trip, it’s always a good idea to be strategic about timing and be prepared. If possible, visit colleges before you apply and then visit your two top choices again in the spring of your senior year before you accept one. Since spring break is a “peak” season for tours, make reservations at least a month ahead of time. Don’t risk showing up and being turned away because there are no more spaces.
Booking the typical tour is simple through each college’s website. Or, you can contact the admissions department and often set something up that suits your individual needs. If this seems too onerous, there is always the outsourcing option. Go through a tour company such as Seize the Day Tours in Sacramento. Check their website, http://www.seizethedaytours.com/#!upcoming-tours, for upcoming tours or check with your high school counselor.
And, finally, there are ways to do virtual tours such as www.youniversitytv.com and www.collegeweeklive.com. or do virtual fairs through www.collegefairsonline.com.
What to expect on your trip
Most colleges have some or all of the following types of visiting options:
* Group information session – A group meeting with an admissions officer to cover basic details about the school and answer questions.
* Campus tour (usually student-led) — Maybe you’ve seen the backwards walking leader of a group before? This type of tour takes about an hour. You see classrooms, the student union, dining commons and maybe even dorm rooms. The quality of the tour depends on the particular student leading the tour.
* Overnight stays — Some schools allow students to stay overnight and experience living in the dorms and eating in the dining hall. Space is limited and may be available only to admitted students.
* Class visits — Set up class visits. Look online or talk to the admissions office for specifics.
* Interviews — This is great chance to learn about the school and make an impression. More on this below.
How to get the most out of your trip
Regardless of which type of tour you take, it is always helpful to do your homework first. Here are some tips to get you ready.
* Research the college before you visit. Read materials from the college and check out its website.
* Be an active participant. Ask questions that help clarify their academic programs and the type of student who is most comfortable there.
* Follow your interests. Visit departments that interest you, coaches in sports where you excel and former graduates from your high school.
* Look for intangibles. Read the notices in the dorms or on bulletin boards. Have lunch in the student center and watch student interactions.
* What’s your gut reaction? Keep track of your impressions after you visit.
Back to interviews
This is often the main event of the trip. Not only does it help a prospective student get noticed, but it also is great practice for interviews in the future. In general, there are two types: informational and evaluative. Informational interviews are a way for you to learn more about the school and for the school to try to recruit you. Evaluative interviews are focused on assessing whether you would be a good fit and occur later in the application process.
No matter the type of interview, it is wise to hone your interview skills beforehand. Here are some tips to help you put your best self forward:
* Be professional: Be on time, be respectful, make eye contact, no gum and speak clearly. Send a thank-you note after.
* Research the school: Know the basics such as school size, location, majors you would be interested in, unique aspects and campus life.
* Practice your interview skills: Anticipate possible questions and take time to answer them out loud in a “mock” interview setting or in front of a mirror. Have “go to” answers ready for predictable questions. When you answer a question always be sure to answer “why” not just “what.”
* Be yourself: Answer questions and have a conversation that genuinely reflects who you are and what you want. Do not try to satisfy what you think they are looking for in a candidate.
* Prepare questions for the interviewer: Do not ask anything that you could find out online or in guide books. And, of course, do not ask anything that is inappropriate.
Questions you may be asked
There are many online resources such as https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/interviews/college-interviews-practice-questions-and-strategies that have examples of questions you may be asked. Here are a few examples:
* What are your most/least favorite subjects and why?
* What adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
* How do you spend your free time?
* What is challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
* What did you do last summer and what did you learn from it?
* Why do you want to attend this school?
* What majors are you interested in and why?
And remember to have questions prepared for the interviewer. Here are some examples as a frame of reference:
* What kinds of students are most successful at this school?
* How would you describe the general personality of this school?
* What was your best/worst college experience?
I hope this information has motivated you to hit the road. If so, happy trails. I wish you a pleasant and informative journey along your path to the right college for you.
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her husband and two daughters. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.