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How to Make the Most of a Campus Visit
Chances are when filling out your college applications, you noticed a strange question: “have you ever visited campus?” A visit to campus might seem tantamount to tourism, but campus visits actually mean more to admissions officers than you might think. Chances are, you wouldn’t take the time or make the trip to visit a school if you didn’t have some degree of interest in attending. A campus visit thus demonstrates interest, and demonstrated interest is actually a significant factor on your applications (although it’s important to note that the impact of visiting campus is less pronounced at top schools like Harvard and Stanford, which are tourist destinations in and of themselves).
But why do colleges care about whether or not you’re interested? It should be about whether they’re interested in you, right? Well, yes, but that’s not the whole story. See, colleges, like many overachieving students, put a lot of stock in school rankings. Every year, thousands of students will apply to a school just because it’s ranked in the top 10 in the nation by some prominent publication, and colleges are all too cognizant of this fact. One of the many factors that’s considered when these rankings are being determined is a school’s yield rate, which is the percentage of admitted students who choose to matriculate. If nearly every student admitted chooses to enroll, that’s evidence that the school is a highly desirable choice; for some context, Harvard’s yield rate, the highest in the nation, hovers at around 80%. Students who demonstrate interest in a school are more likely to matriculate if accepted, keeping yield rates high. By considering demonstrated interest in their admissions decisions, admissions officers avoid admitting students who won’t actually matriculate and will bring yield rates (and potentially the school’s rank) down as a consequence.
Obviously, school’s desire for a high yield rate makes demonstrating strong interest advantageous to any student, and a campus visit is one of the best ways to do so. However, not all campus visits are created equal. Strolling around campus aimlessly for 20 minutes might allow you to get a good idea of the campus architecture, and spending a night out with a friend who’s a student might give you an enlightening introduction to the social scene, but admissions officers won’t be all too impressed, and you won’t learn much about academics or everyday student life that way either. Here are some ways to make the most of your visit to campus:
Take a tour. If you’ve ever been on a college campus, you’ve seen it: a group of 10-15 eager high school students, sometimes accompanied by even more eager parents, crowded around a student tour guide. Sure, student-led tours may not be the most intellectually highbrow or riveting way of spending your time on campus, but they are informative and useful for getting a general sense of the layout of the campus, the school’s academic philosophy, and what life is like as a student (one example – if the campus is huge and a walking tour has you breaking into a sweat, consider investing in a bicycle!). A tour guide can be a huge resource to you on your college visit – they’re there to answer questions, recommend restaurants or study spots, and more. Don’t shy away from asking your tour guide any questions you may have or asking to speak with them after.
Find a visitor’s center. Most colleges have a visitor’s center that includes a variety of resources for any visitors to make the most of their trips. Maps, information on any events happening on campus, tips on things to do for fun on and off campus – these places have it all, and their employees are trained to help you with anything you might need during your trip. Be sure to utilize this awesome resource!
Speak with professors. If you’re confident about what you want to study or have a subject you’re particularly interested in, try reaching out to faculty members beforehand and scheduling a time to meet. This can help you not only garner an understanding of what it’s like to study that subject in college, but also what it’s like to be involved with that department at that specific school. If you’re able to meet with a professor, you can ask about anything from major requirements to research opportunities. You can also sit in on a class in your department of interest. This first-hand look into the life of a student in your desired major can be illuminating, and you may learn about many aspects of the program or student life you never would have otherwise.
Look into financial aid. If you’re planning on applying for financial aid, a great way to get information about your school’s aid programs is by visiting the office of financial aid during a campus visit. While most schools offer online resources, such as net price calculators, to help prospective students gauge the cost of their education, speaking directly with a financial aid officer can offer more insight into the process of determining aid and provides an opportunity for you to ask an officer any questions you have. This is especially true if your family has any unique financial circumstances that you feel aren’t adequately addressed by online resources.
Schedule an interview. Some schools offer on-campus interviews for applicants who were unable to participate in an interview in their area. While an interview is not the most impactful part of your application, making the effort to reach out and having a strong interview not only demonstrates interest, but also allows you to showcase another aspect of your personality not communicated through your application.
Do some sightseeing. A school’s surrounding area can have an enormous impact on student life, both academically and socially. Your experience as a student, even at a school that’s otherwise perfect for you, can be marred by a surrounding city or town you don’t like. Take some time to explore the area surrounding the college; maybe even try out a local restaurant students frequent or a movie theatre they commonly patronize on weekends. If you can’t see yourself living there, you may want to reconsider whether that school is right for you.
The most important thing you can do during a campus visit is to ask yourself, “could I see myself as a student here?” It’s easy to let preconceived notions about a school color your campus visit experience, but if you’re not honest with yourself, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Even if you’ve been dreaming about a school your whole life, if you can’t see yourself having a comfortable, enjoyable, and engaging 4 years there, you may want to reconsider; similarly, you may have discounted a school for one reason or another, but if you visit and fall in love, you shouldn’t let previous thoughts or prejudices keep you from a college that could be perfect for you. If you approach a campus visit with an open mind and a desire to educate yourself, you can walk away not only having demonstrated interest that will positively impact your application, but having gained valuable insight that can guide you as you make your final college decision.