Life Lesson: How to Scout Out a College

Spring time is more than just fresh flowers and bunnies- it is college acceptance time. College applications were due months ago and students have been eagerly awaiting the results that will tell them where they will be in the fall.

If students are lucky they will be accepted to more than one college. Now the hard decision is here: which college to attend. Students often feel like they have to convince a university to take them, but the tables are turned when a student has many options and the schools begin to woo them.

Colleges and universities can measure up on paper. You can look at graduating rates, types of classes offered and degrees. But you really won’t get the true feel to a college or university until you visit the campus. A campus visit is the ultimate deciding factor for a college-bound student.

First, set up a tour. It sounds lame to be stuck with a tour guide, but without someone knowledgeable about the university you will just be walking around a bunch of buildings. You need the tour guide (who is often a current student) to show you the big important buildings, where the students hang out and what college life is really like. Some universities offer overnight stays for students to get the ‘real’ feel of the campus. Beware- overnight tours are often booked well in advance. Overnight tours will give you an opportunity to stay in the dorms, try out campus food and participate in campus events. Day or half-day tours can also be beneficial. Sign up through the university as soon as you are available.

Planning ahead will make your visit a better experience. Request to talk to an admissions advisor, financial aid counselor and a counselor in your desired major. Working with these three important people will help you decide if this college is for you. It might seem like the boring part, but hey, academics is the whole reason you are going to college, right? Set up quick appointments ahead of time to ensure that their schedules aren’t booked. You don’t want to travel hours to visit a counselor who is not even in the office.

If you are going to visit a college further away, consider staying for the weekend in the college town. This will give you a much better feel for the actual college and neighboring atmosphere. This will help you determine what sort of shopping options you have (grocery and otherwise). But don’t be tempted to stay in a fancy place just because you are with mom and dad. To get the ultimate college experience, try using student transportation (the bus) and eat like students do (food carts).

Speaking of your parents, try and get away from them for at least a little bit of the trip. Mom and dad won’t be there in college, so you need to get a feel of the campus without the parentals hovering over you.

Lastly, ask around. Find someone who goes to the college and ask for an unofficial insider tour.

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