This post is part of a monthly college planning series for members of the high school class of 2012 and their parents.
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 crocus’ 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 building 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 better idea 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. 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, the line at the coffee shop, or arrange to meet with a student who graduated from your high school a few years ago. Talk to them to really get insight.