Making the most of your college visits
Hey, buddy! Congratulations! You got into college! Three acceptance letters in the same day! You got into your “safety” and your second-to-top choice and the place your mom forced you to apply! Bust out the non-alcoholic champagne and the party crackers! Tell your friends on Facebook! Send out a mass e-mail! It’s a college baby, colleeeeeeeeeeege!
Okay…now take a deep breath, throw away the empty box of crackers, sign offline, and take a seat. Have a glass of water while you’re at it. Your work is not done. You’ve got a bunch of schools to choose from and each one has a long list of pros and cons. Your parents are going to be yelling a lot of things in your ears, and it’s important to listen to their concerns—but first things first, let’s get something out of the way: I cannot recommend visiting your choice colleges strongly enough. This is probably the most important step in making an informed decision.
As a Texan who traded in his cowboy boots (well, figurative cowboy boots) for Vermont snowshoes (also figurative), I can safely say that my visit to Middlebury College was the number-one factor in my decision to ultimately go there. I’d done tons and tons of research about schools in the south and the northeast, but if I hadn’t visited those schools I probably would have been far more in the dark than I was when it came time to make my final decision.
A lot of schools have “Admitted Students Days." If you can somehow swing a trip to one of these, you’ll get a good indication of the kinds of students you’d be living with your freshman year. However—and I hate to say it—these events tend to be pretty glossy. You’ll get some great apple cider and half-bagels as you mingle with staff and potential students, but you won’t get the full taste. If you plan a visit during an Admitted Students’ Day, be sure to venture outwards. If you can stay the night with a student, that’s great. A lot of my friends hosted prospective students in college, and a lot of times these “prospies” ended up coming out with us on the weekends. Even though these overnighters can be slightly awkward for the both of you (“So, um, do you want to watch some Family Guy while I go do my laundry? Okay, cool, sweet”), there is no better way to get a glimpse of what actually goes on at that school from the inside.
When I visited Middlebury, I happened to get there on a day when all the theater majors were meeting for lunch in the same room. At first I was worried that I’d feel weird being at one of those things with my dad and a bunch of people I’d never met. But my awkwardness was quelled when I realized that all of these people were nice and wanted to help, and were even willing to sit down with me afterwards and talk about life at Middlebury. The professors in the theater program spoke candidly about the pros and cons, and were really forthright and honest about it. I loved that. And if I hadn’t visited, and had only gone to the events that the school told me to go to, I never would have experienced these things.
Chances are, during your college-visiting process you’ll have a gut feeling on a campus that this is the place you want to spend four years. And while gut feelings can be sneaky, they usually come from the right place. I visited Middlebury on a sunny, gorgeous day. There was a crisp view of the Adirondacks and the famous Vermont foliage was beginning to come out, and pretty girls were wearing sun dresses and eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. My gut was telling me that I’d be crazy not to want to stay there. The pieces just fell into place. If you’re not feeling comfortable on a campus (maybe something’s missing, and you’re not quite sure what it is), chances are that you’re not going to be excited about getting there on your first day of school.
So, after you’re accepted, try to pack as much as you can into every college visit. In the end, after all the stats, brochures, websites (ahem), and tours have been seen, it’s really about where you can envision spending four of the best years of your life. The decision is daunting, indeed, but you’re the only one who knows how you feel about each of your choices. Was there one place you felt most at home when you visited? Did you have an amazing conversation with a professor at another? One school, maybe, just feels right. And ultimately, that’s what’s going to matter most.