So much discussion about college applications surrounds the competitive nature of the process, but as I often remind my students, college admissions is not a one way street: now is the time for Seniors to make their picks before the May 1 deposit deadline. It’s true that a lot of elements of the application process are out of students’ hands, but once all the decisions are released, it’s important for incoming Freshmen to make informed and empowered choices about where they see themselves thriving.
So, how do you make sure you properly weigh your options and select the school that is best for you? Visiting, of course, can be tremendously helpful - but there’s more to do than simply taking a tour or attending an info session:
Observe students in their element
While university sponsored events will likely showcase many of the major facilities on campus, seek out students in informal settings where you’ll see them going about their day to day routines. When I was visiting schools, I’d always check out the library (yes, I was/am that much of a nerd), while Julia recalls hunkering down in the student center to see friends and classmates interacting (plus, it doesn’t hurt to check out the dining options). If you’re interested in science, go explore the laboratory buildings...and if you like theatre, get tickets for a student production. Whenever possible, try to chat with students along the way; it’s not just about assessing the facilities, but getting a firsthand look at the conversations and discoveries that may take place inside of them.
Explore the academics
Whenever possible, sit in on a class in your area of interest - ideally one that’s meant for Freshmen - to get a sense of the level of academic engagement and inquiry happening in the classroom. Then, go visit the building where your academic department(s) of choice are housed - and see if the chair is available for a quick conversation about the curriculum. Just be sure to do your due diligence beforehand and read up about the requirements and courses so you can ask informed questions. Finally, many professors are excited to speak with incoming students about their interests, so look up some of the professors you might have mentioned in your “why?” essays and see if they might have some time to chat with you about their research.
Read the paper
Some of my fondest memories from college took place in the student newspaper office - and I genuinely believe that if you want to get a sense of what’s actually happening on a college campus (good and bad) and what students care about, read the newspaper. Student publications, I universally find, can be an incredible resource for inside insight into a school. Op-eds offer a unique look into current debates taking place on campus, while the arts section or magazine will often provide a glimpse into the artistic and social happenings taking place.
While these strategies are especially relevant for Seniors weighing their options for next fall, they’re not to be underrated for Sophomores and Juniors embarking on their college tours. It can be easy to lose sight in this process of the reality: that students do have a choice in their end results, and the more informed they are, the better their outcomes will ultimately be. So, go explore - and remember to have fun... You’ve earned these choices!