Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Get the most out of your campus tours

It's tour season, and a multitude of young people are spending their spring breaks visiting college campuses. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your visit:

1. Explore on your own - Of course you should take the official campus tour, but be sure to allow time to poke around on your own. Walk the extra mile to visit the areas you'll be spending the most time in. If you know your major, find out which building those classes are taught in. Find out if there is something new coming for that major (like a new lab building) and what scholarship or grant opportunities there are.

2. Read the bulletin boards - When you visit the student center, academic buildings and residence halls, take a few minutes to read the bulletin boards. They provide a quick and easy way to see what’s happening on campus. The ads for lectures, clubs, recitals and plays can give you a good sense of the types of activities going on outside of the classrooms.

3. Eat in the dining hall - You can get a good feel for student life by eating in the dining hall. Try to sit with students if you can, but even if you’re with your parents, you can observe the activity around you. Do the students seem happy? Also, is the food good (keeping in mind it's a cafeteria, not a restaurant)? Are there adequate healthy options? How much is the meal plan and will you use it?

4. Visit a class in your major - If you know what you want to study, a class visit makes a lot of sense. You’ll get to observe other students in your field and see how engaged they are in classroom discussion. Be sure to call in advance to schedule a classroom visit -- most colleges don’t allow visitors to drop in on class unannounced.

5. Schedule a conference with a professor - If you’ve decided on a possible major, arrange a conference with a professor in that field. You can ask about your major’s graduation requirements, undergraduate research opportunities, and class sizes.

6. Talk to lots of students - Are they friendly and open? Do you feel comfortable chatting with someone in the student center or cafeteria? Is there the sense that you can make friends easily on this campus?

7. Sleep over - If it’s at all possible, spend a night at the college. Nothing will give you a better sense of student life than a night in a residence hall. Your student host can provide a wealth of information, and you’re likely to chat with many other students on the hallway. You’ll also get a good sense of the school’s personality.

8. Take pictures and notes - If you’re comparing several schools, be sure to document your visits. The details may seem distinct at the time of the visit, but by the third or fourth tour, schools will start to blur together in your mind. Don’t write down just facts and figures. Try to record your feelings during the visit; you want to end up at a school that feels like home.

9. Talk to the financial aid representative - How many students are on scholarship? What do you need to get a scholarship, loan or grant at that school? Some schools offer full rides for meeting a certain level of academic standard. That might be the school for you, if you qualify!

10. Bring a bookbag and wear comfortable shoes - You'll not only blend in with the students, but you'll have someplace to put all the paperwork, brochures, fliers, handouts and freebies you'll collect along the way.

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