This is the sixth in a series of monthly blog posts designed for members of the high school class of 2014, and excerpted from Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders. It highlights planning steps that you can take now to make your college application process easier and more effective.
I made a quick college visit last week. I hadn’t been on this particular campus since my own college tour decades ago. The sun wasn’t shining, the trees hadn’t yet sprouted leaves; the only sign of spring was a few crocuses near the campus rock.
As a group, with parents and prospective students, we shuffled along on our campus tour, our student guides pointing to academic buildings and sharing historical anecdotes. Parents peppered them with questions about SAT scores. After an hour and a half, I had seen the outsides of some buildings, the inside of the student center and the door of a classroom. Despite the excellent experiences some of my students have had on this campus, I completed the tour and wasn’t sure that I had a handle on exactly what set this campus apart.
Eventually, I found myself on public transportation, headed away from campus. Across from me sat
a current freshman, headed to the art museum for one of her classes. For thirty minutes, she happily
answered my questions about her college experience. Yes, her classes are small, the social life is enjoyable and her professors engaging and forward-thinking. She’s found the academics challenging, and frankly, the students more competitive with one another than she initially thought they would be.
When I got off the train, I had a much clearer picture of the college I had just spent the morning visiting. As you begin to visit colleges, I can’t stress enough the importance of breaking away from the
admissions office and the campus tour. The tour and information session are a thorough introduction
to the university, but to get a better sense of the student experience (and of course not every student’s
experience is typical), step outside. Find a student in the cafeteria or in line at the coffee shop, or
arrange to meet with a student who graduated from your high school who’s currently at your target
college. Talk to them and gain greater insight.