Planning to visit colleges during spring break? You’re not alone. March is the time many high school juniors (and some sophomores) start their college tours.
On these visits you’ll be looking for answers to questions like “Is this school for me?” and “Will I be happy here?” But let me give you another question to ask yourself: “What can I learn from this visit that will help me write a great college application essay?”
Here are 3 ways to make college visits work for your college application essays:
1. Make contacts
Making contacts is great for two reasons: 1. You can learn a lot from the people you talk to, and 2. You can get in touch later if you have more questions.
There are several ways to make contacts:
- Schedule an interview for the day you’re on campus. If the school doesn’t offer interviews see if you can get an interview with a professor in a field of study that interests you. Get your contact’s name (correctly spelled) and email, and send him or her a thank-you. That way if you have more questions you can follow up knowing you’ve already made a good impression.
- Are you an athlete? See if you can meet a coach or a student athlete. Same goes for the thank-you note.
- Chat with your tour guide when you go on the tour. At the end ask for his or her name and email and ask if you can write if you have more questions.
2. Notice details
Details are important in college application essays. They make your essays personal and separate you from students writing essays so generic that 1,000 others could have written the same one.
When you visit each college notice what makes an impression on you. It can be anything from how you feel walking on campus to the kind of students you meet. The details don’t matter, as long as they matter to you. Do you see a dorm you might want to live in? Find out its name. Is your tour guide a member of the student council and you think you’d like to join? Ask what her experiences have been.
The more details you collect now the more information you’ll have for your essay later.
3. Write it down:
Take a pad with you and write it down. Let me say it again: write it down. At the end of the day your note pad should have the names and emails of your contacts, and a detailed list of what you saw and liked, and why.
Why go through the trouble? Let me give you an example: A student of mine had to write a short essay about why he wanted to go to college X. In his first draft he wrote that he went on the tour and liked the campus and dorms. It was too generic, so I asked him to find an alum or someone on campus he could talk to. He surprised me by saying that he’d hit it off with his campus tour guide and had gotten his email. So he emailed him with some questions about campus life and extra-curricular activities, and asked him more about the dorm he’d liked. When he re-wrote his essay it was full of detail. He also made sure to mention he had corresponded with his tour guide — an impressive fact that was not going be lost on the school.
Prep for your college application essays. Use your college visits as opportunities to make contacts and gather details. The end result will be essays that are detailed, personal, and well worth the effort.