A friend of mine just called. Her son’s a high school sophomore and she was wondering if she should take him on college visits this year. She thought she’d start with schools that are nearby so he could get a feel for what college visits are like.
Is sophomore year too early to visit? Not at all. If you visit early, however, and then decide to apply, you may want to go back for a second visit. You also might find you’ve forgotten some key details, such as the names of the tour guide, admissions officer, and instructors you met (although notes and photos are good reminders).
Early visits can be helpful when a student:
- Can’t get a good sense of schools online
- Isn’t sure what size school would be best
- Needs to get a feeling for rural, suburban, and urban environments
- Is uncomfortable or shy about asking questions
- Will be visiting different parts of the country
- May need extra help or time to organize the college search
Here are 10 Tips for Sophomores to Make the Most of College Visits:
- Put down the phone and look around. This visit is for YOU and you won’t get much out of it if you’re answering texts and checking Instagram. Pay attention – you’re about to choose where you’re going to spend the next four years of your life.
- Relax. No one is watching you. Even better, you’re a year ahead of many students on the tour who are feeling the pressure to decide where they’re going. So take a deep breath and just let it all sink in.
- Keep an open mind. Forget where your friends want to go. (Most of it’s just talk anyway.) Forget about what kind of school you think is “prestigious.” (Lots of schools you never heard of have the best programs in the country.) Keep your options open – you can’t find the best school if you don’t give it a fair shake.
- Go with your gut. A big part of the college search is figuring out what schools will be a good match for you. So look around campus. Eavesdrop on students’ conversations. Grab a cup of coffee and hang out wherever there’s a hangout. Try it on and see if it fits.
- Listen to questions. Pay attention to the questions students and parents ask on the tour. You may want to ask some of those same questions next time.
- Ask questions. There’s no downside to asking questions of anyone – tour guide, students, college admissions officers, even the security guard at the dining hall. So if you’ve got a question, ask it. (“How do students get around in all that snow? Is the food edible? Is there really a course called ‘Brownies with the Dean’?”)
- If you’re shy, plan to ask one question and then make sure to ask it. Start getting comfortable now.
- Explore. Go “off-road” and find the places that aren’t on the tour. Duck in to the dining hall and the library. Size-up the gym facilities, the radio station, the theater – whatever interests you. Ditch your parents and take a walk by yourself.
- Debrief. On the way home, review your experience with your parents. Discuss what you learned, what was exciting, what you’d change, and what you didn’t like. As you talk, your college search will not only begin to take shape, but your parents will also become better equipped to help you navigate your way.
- Make notes. If you haven’t made notes while you were on campus, do that now, while it’s fresh in your memory.
- Include General notes: Your overall impression, including the size of the school, types of classes that are offered, and if you felt it might be a good fit.
- Include Specific notes: Details, including the names of buildings you want to remember (a dorm you thought you’d like to live in, for example), as well as the people you met and the names of courses, activities, or instructors that were recommended.
- Get organized. Start a file for each college you visit.
- Think of questions to ask next time. Now that you’re starting to get a sense of what appeals to you, make a list of questions for your next trip. After each college visit, remember to debrief and refine your questions. Soon you’ll be way ahead of most of the other students, because you’ll have learned how to figure out which school is right for you.
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. Need help with essay writing, interview skills, and organizing your college search? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, Skype, and by email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.