By Jim Nguyen

Whether you plan to do this once or a number of times, open up to the experience of visiting a college or university! More than just a series of campus pictures, the visit is one of those experiences that will actually give you a glimpse of how you will live your post-secondary years.

But then worries and anxious thoughts can start to get in. Where is the admissions table? What are the workshops? Where is this building with the name that I am having trouble pronouncing? How long do I have between workshops? How long is lunch?

A photo of the Westlands Building- the Undergraduate Admissions building in Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York

And before you know it, the first thing you want to do is to panicBut fear not – college visits can be scary in some ways (the Halloween Haunted House was like that this year, to be honest).   To ease some of your worries, here are a few tips on how to make the most of your college visits:

  1. Research beforehand

A difference between a college campus visit and a college fair is that you are going to only see one college during a visit. An important point: Admissions representatives will assume that all students attending a visit are at least partially interested in attending that particular college. To avoid visiting schools that match none of your interests and to have a more solid idea of what  colleges might offer you, you should do bit of research before scheduling your visits. Some good things to research are academic programs and course offerings, majors and minors, residential life, campus engagement such as clubs and student organizations, internships, and scholarships/financial aid, to name a few. If you have some basic knowledge about the college, it is a real plus, since “campus visits are usually more towards interacting with the current students rather than learning the basic information,” according to Ms. Sara Keimig, Senior Assistant Director of Admission at Sarah Lawrence College.

2) Search for open house days to attend

Open house days are when a college will provide an introduction to all students who are interested in applying to and attending that school. Usually, you will see many prospective students who are as nervous as you when visiting an open house, as compared to when you go to see a college on your own. Plus, an open house provides more events to attend that would not usually be held at other times (think admissions panel, workshops and introductory sessions). Also, there is usually a free lunch during open houses!

3) Plan ahead

An important thing I learned from the process of going to a large number of college visits (four this year alone) is that you cannot wait until the last minute to sign up. This is less of a problem with smaller or mid-size schools with a focus on liberal arts, social sciences, and the humanities like Sarah Lawrence College or Lesley University. But, it will definitely be a problem with more competitive schools.  

How to Survive Your College Visit

Continued from the Printed Version

If your school is far away from the City of Boston (Bentley University, UMass Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College) or even away from Massachusetts itself (New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Vassar College, University of New Hampshire, Colby College, et cetera), it is crucial for you to plan ahead so that you can have adequate time to actually enjoy the visit (avoid exhaustion) and get back to school to resume your classes at CATS.  Be sure to watch for inclement weather (rain, snow, sleet, et cetera) and traffic (train delays, bus delays) and plan accordingly.

4) Bring a companion if possible

Bringing companions with you on the campus visit will often be wise, especially if you are applying to the same colleges and have similar interests. Touring a campus together can lower any anxiety or stress a little bit and make the experience less of a challenge and more of an exploratory experience. One thing: Be sure to clearly tell the school how many companions you are bringing with you to the visit – space is always limited!

5) Interact and ask questions

It may seem daunting at first, but asking questions and interacting with admissions officers, current students, and faculty members will greatly benefit you on your college application journey. Gaining a more personal understanding of the college you are visiting will help you in the process of actually choosing a place where you belong. Also, admission representatives and department chairs are not that scary in person – so try to interact with them. You will quickly realize that they are the most helpful individuals that you can meet on a college campus. If you are confused about the kind of questions you might ask during a panel discussion, try some of these:

  • What is the one thing that stood out, for you as a student, about this school?
  • What is the the best memory you have of working (or in case of an alumni, studying) at the school?
  • What are some more details about the academic/athletic/social/residential life of the student body?
  • What are some traditions at the school?
  • How do you pronounce the name of a specific building?
  • Describe the one professor/class that made you especially glad that you choose to be in this program?
  • How is the food?
  • In your opinion, what should all students try to do while attending the school?

6) Do not be too dependent on the rankings

Something that I cannot emphasize enough for CATS students in particular is that the rankings will not dictate your experience at a school (which is why I recommend you to go to the campus yourself to take a look at what you are signing up for). Your college experience will include both what the school can offer and what you get from the experience of attending it. And not everyone will have the same goal in mind. In Vietnamese, we have an idiom that goes “nine people, yet ten opinions,” meaning that there will always be discourse over an issue – and the crucial thing for you to know is what you want from your own education. Therefore, keep the rankings in mind (they offer a more objective perspective than the colleges themselves), but also keep in mind that how you feel during your campus visit – if you feel uneasy, then reconsider applying no matter who recommends it to you.

7) You do not need to go to every open house offered

No matter your present academic situation, your health and wellness should take priority.  Schedule college visits with you in mind.  Pace yourself, and try to enjoy investigating the opportunities which await you post-CATS. You do not need to visit every college on your application list, but I highly recommend that you visit at least one or two!

And there we go–seven tips for how not to panic during your college campus visit. Now, when you are standing at the college campus entrance, you will have some tips for achieving the best college campus visit experience. So breathe in, smile, and walk up to the admissions table. You can do this!