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What should I look for when visiting a college?

I'm a senior this year and so far I have only gone on one college visit and I had no idea what to look for and because of that I don't know if I even liked it. I feel like I'm supposed to like it, but I don't know if I do and I just really need help with figuring out the factors I should be weighing when looking at colleges so that I choose the right one for myself. #givingiscaring #collegeconfused


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John’s Answer

Grace college visits are important. For one, before you commit years of your life and thousands of dollars to a school, you should be sure you're choosing a place that is a good match for your personality and interests. You can’t get the "feel" of a school from any guidebook, so be sure to visit the campus. Of course, you should take the official campus tour, but be sure to allow time to poke around on your own. The trained tour guides will show you a school's selling points. But the oldest and prettiest buildings don’t give you the entire picture of a college, nor does the one dorm room that was manicured for visitors. Try to walk the extra mile and get the complete picture of the campus.

Choosing a college is a big decision. There are many aspects of the college to consider and how they relate to your personal preferences. And, it’s easy to get caught up in certain aspects of a school – like the really fancy dorms or the fact that your best friend goes there – and lose sight of the big picture (Is this the right place for you to learn skills for your career?). Visiting the school campus is an important step in any college search. Tour the campus while classes are in session, sit in on a class, visit student housing facilities and eat at the college cafeteria to see if you feel comfortable and would be happy at the colleges and universities on your short list. Take into consideration all college costs, from tuition and room and board to books, travel expenses and any lab or computer costs. Make sure you understand the type of financial aid you’ve been awarded and how and when you’ll be expected to repay it.

Obviously, there is a lot to think about when trying to find college options that fit your needs. Remember, choosing a university is a big commitment, so be sure to have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. Good luck Grace!

John recommends the following next steps:

VISIT MAJOR CLASS – If you know what you want to study, a class visit makes a lot of sense. You’ll get to observe other students in your field and see how engaged they are in classroom discussion. Try to stay after class for a few minutes and chat with the students to get their impressions of their professors and majors. Be sure to call in advance to schedule a classroom visit; most colleges don't allow visitors to drop in on class unannounced.
SCHEDULE PROFESSOR CONFERENCE – If you've decided on a possible major, arrange a conference with a professor in that field. This will give you an opportunity to see if the faculty's interests match your own. You can also ask about your major’s graduation requirements, undergraduate research opportunities, and class sizes.
INTERVIEW STUDENTS – Your campus tour guide has been trained to market the school. Try to hunt down students who aren’t getting paid to woo you. These impromptu conversations can often provide you with information about college life that isn’t part of the admissions script. Few university officials will tell you if their students spend all weekend drinking or studying, but a group of students might.

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Oliver’s Answer

Hi Grace,

I am answering your question from the perspective of someone that is about 6 months out of college. Frankly, I do not remember what I looked for when selecting my college, but if I were to do it over again, here are some of the factors I would pay especially close attention to:

1. Observe as many students as you can. Ask yourself if the students look happy, ask yourself if the students are well spoken- people that you admire and look up to.

2. Read into the college's degree programs, and their flexibility. No matter how "decided" or "undecided" you are in what you'd like to study, attending an institution that lets you switch majors, add minors, and change your path as you go is extremely valuable (because you never know what's going to happen!)

3. Observe the geographical atmosphere, and check it out on google maps! If you are going to be living on campus and/or travelling far from home to attend college, an unfamiliar city or town can have just as much of an impact on you as your academic experience! Look at the neighborhoods surrounding the college: are the crime rates high? are you in a city full of opportunities (and distractions), or are you in a rural area "college town" that won't allow to explore as much (but may keep you more focused on your studies)?

4. Sit in on class, lab or lectures! Throughout your entire undergraduate career, you may spend more time listening to your professors voices then any other voice. If you have a hunch of what you'd like to study, ask admissions if you could sit in on a related class! If your outgoing, consider finding the department chair of what you'd like to study and ask for a quick 20 minute phone call to learn more about the department (all faculty are more than happy to hear from an enthusiastic potential student!). Think about the following as you do these things: Are the professors engaging? Am I getting sleepy in their lectures? Do the other students seem to not be hating themselves (it's hard to find a class full of students genuinely enjoying themselves, so just make sure they look OKAY :)? Does the learning environment match your learning style (interactive, visual, hands on, etc.)? If you want, even ask the professor for the class syllabus afterwords, that'll give you a great overview of how a class is structured!


With all those in mind, none of these observations mean anything if you don't have anything to compare them to. I recommend starting a journal and recording consistent observations about colleges so you can make an informed decision based off pro/con lists when it comes time to apply or accept admittance.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

Oliver recommends the following next steps:

Start a journal to record the following observations for EVERY college you visit, then compare them, and create a ranked list!
1. Do the students seem happy?
2. Will I enjoy learning from the professors I've talked to?
3. Will the location give me career opportunities while keeping me focused on studies?
4. Do the degree programs allow me to change/ add to my studies if something changes my mind?

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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Grace,

You have gotten some great advice so far. One of the things that I would really focus on is places where you are going to need to access on a regular basis. That goes to the geography that others have mentioned. You should look at the campus and determine where the important things are. This will include the buildings where you think that you will be spending most of your time. When I went away to college, I lived on campus. I was injured during my time there and ended up with a badly twisted ankle. Geography became really important. I ended up struggling to get around campus because the medical center was on one side of campus and the library way on the other side. Large campuses can also be a challenge for getting to class on time as you have to get around a large area. Is that something that you are going to be able to handle during bad weather or injury?

Gloria

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Jon’s Answer

Completely understand, picking the right college is not an easy thing to do.

Do you have family or friends that have gone to college? Would they be willing to talk about how they selected their school with you? Even better, they probably know you fairly well, would they be willing to visit a school or two with you?

Maybe just start by simply picking 2-5 schools in your state and driving there for tours. Don't even worry about the majors offered. Use this as a initial learning experience.

After you've been to 2-3... what did you like about them? The campus? The surrounding areas? Was the tuition affordable? Did they have any majors that sounded exciting? Are you comfortable with big class sizes or is smaller more preferable? Could you see yourself going there and being part of the student body? Then ask yourself... what didn't you like about them? Thinking that through will help you learn a little more about yourself and what you might want in a college.

With those new learnings, go out to the US New website and do some research. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges

Put together your list of likes and dislikes, and try to filter down to 5-6 schools that feel like the right match for you. The biggest thing is just start exploring as much as possible.

And hey, even if you decide to just attend a local community college first, that is a fine route. Many many folks have done that and then moved onto a larger university setting. Just be confident enough to dive in a little deeper, you'll find the right route!

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