Campus Visit
College Admission
College Visit

Owning YOUR Campus Visit

I had the opportunity to visit Munich, Germany last week. It was a beautiful town. Rich history, amazingly friendly people, and extremely walk-able.

In advance of my trip I got lots of recommendations from friends and colleagues who had visited before. “Definitely go to the Hofbrauhaus;” “Climb the 299 stairs to the top of St. Peter’s;” “Go to the public bathhouse right in the center of town;” “Just be sure you get a pretzel… from anywhere.”

I also asked my e-friends, Siri and Google for “Top Things to do in Munich.” In the end, I hit a few of the “must dos” but also picked the experiences and sites that most interested me. However, some of the most enjoyable moments were actually sitting in the train station, eating in the restaurants, and riding the trams downtown, and going into local grocery stores. Granted I only half understood every fifth word (yes, that’s another way to say roughly 10%), but it was still a great way to observe and appreciate the city’s culture and personality.

I share this with you partly to talk up Bavaria as a possible future vacation or study abroad destination, but more so because April is one of the heaviest campus visit months of the year— as are the summer months that follow.

If you are planning a trip to a college campus soon, I hope you’ll follow these tips:

It’s not all about the Hofbrauhaus

Every person and site listed the Hofbrauhaus. I get it- remarkable place— and definitely a classic city trademark. But if you were to only go there, you’d miss the real heartbeat of the city.

Same thing with campus visits. Yes, you should go to the admission info session and tour. Not for the big brother element of whether they’re going to count it or track it, but because this is where you will get the highlights, hear the key messages, learn some history, understand their unique mission and goals, and see the key iconic buildings and top destinations on campus.

Wander, listen, engage

View from the top of St. Peter’s (after I caught my breath).

Unfortunately, too many people visit campuses and cities the same way. They hit the highlights and follow the crowds or lists. I’m imploring you to break away from the well-traveled path to dig a bit deeper and really feel, see, experience the places students (aka- the locals) spend time.

During my three days in Munich I probably covered a good 20 miles on foot just meandering down the river on trails, taking random turns on city streets, or walking to meetings. Yes, I got a little turned around (my wife insists there’s a difference between that and lost), but it was totally worth it because I was able to stumble on stuff I’d otherwise never have seen. And while my German is what you’d politely label “nicht gut,” walking so much led to some pretty interesting and memorable interactions.

Here is the good news— people on campus want to answer your questions. They want to help you understand what makes their school so great. Make time to wander around, loiter (in a non- threatening way), talk to students, peak in on a class, eavesdrop (we’ve covered this before as a critical life skill).

Listen the conversations around you; observe what students are wearing, discussing, and doing; sit in the student center and pretend to look at your phone or a student newspaper while really glancing about. If you will extend each of your campus visits by just an hour or two and make time for this, you’ll walk away with a much better feel for the place than simply running and gunning from one canned admission talk to the next.

This is YOUR visit

I have read a good bit about the 1972 Olympics and really wanted to see that area. It wasn’t what most people listed and it was not as convenient to my hotel, but it was important to me.

You’ll be spending time, money, and energy to go see these schools. Make the time to see what specifically interests you- the places you think will make up your experience. Get a feel for those areas of campus. A tour guide may simply point out the business school from 200 yards away, but if that’s going to be your major, you need to get there.

The bottom line is you should not simply take what they give you. Own YOUR visit. Are you thinking about playing on the rugby or participating in robotics or doing research or singing in the a cappella group (if all of the above, you are a truly unique individual, my friend)? Get over to the IM fields, reach out to a department advisor, or contact out to the club or group’s advisor in advance of your visit.

Ask YOUR questions

Tour guides are awesome people. They are involved, passionate, and volunteering their time. They are taking you around a place they love, which means they can absolutely wax poetic about campus history or spin yarns about classmates or friends and their adventures in college.

They’ll go into lots of detail on history, facts and interesting information, but they also love to hear and answer your questions. Be proactive and bold enough to ask. Don’t want to interrupt the tour guide or ask publicly? Totally fine. Wait until you’re walking between points or hold your questions until the end and ask privately.

Think about it this way- you are making a decision about where to spend the next four or five years of your life (a time span representing a solid 20-25% of your life to this point). If you are serious about applying to or attending that college, you need to hear first- hand from as many people on that campus as possible about the things that matter to you (students, advisors, faculty, admission reps, etc.) Are their answers similar? What can you learn about the college’s culture based on commonalities?

Too often we hear students say, “Yea. I didn’t apply there because it was raining on my visit.” Or “I just didn’t like what my tour guide was wearing, so I didn’t apply.” Come on, people! You would not want someone to judge your high school or hometown based on one person they met from there, right? Don’t do that to a college that has 5000 or 50,000 on campus. YES, this means working a little harder. Sorry. That’s college, my friends.

I’m challenging you to go with 3-5 questions you really care about and be sure to get those answered while you are there. Can’t think of unique or helpful questions? Here are a few:

  • What has surprised you or disappointed you about this place?
  • What do you wish were different here?
  • What do most people not realize this college is really good at?
  • What makes this place different (not better) than other schools?
  • How has this school changed or shaped you?
  • What has not been asked today that you think is important for everyone to know?

Document, document, document (this is also a good HR lesson, but we’ll save that life advice for another time).

If you are barnstorming through 8 campuses (or 18 campuses) in a week, they’re going to start to blur together:

Where did we see that library that didn’t have any books?

Who was it that said they were adding a program in artificial intelligence?

Was that in Illinois or Indiana where we met the kid who held the national jump roping title?

Take the time during or right after each visit to write (type, bullet point, take pictures, voice record, etc) down your impressions. More of a spreadsheeter? Go ahead and quantify or rate things that matter to you: academic program, quality of food, campus feel, style of tour guide, surrounding community, access to internships. Just get this stuff recorded in some organized manner, so that you can revisit it later.

  • What impressed you about the students?
  • What did you not like about the size or layout of campus?
  • How was the food or coffee?
  • What did the labs look like if you are going to be a bio major?
  • What did they say about internships or co-op opportunities?

Yes, I’m jet lagged and spit balling here (a dangerous combo). Again, you need to have your questions answered and focus on the elements of campus that matter to you.

Last thing

Be nice to the people at the front desk when you are checking in for tours. Sometimes this is a student (could be you in a year or two), sometimes this is the admission counselor who will be reading your file (and they have great memories and a powerful note taking CRM at the ready), sometimes this the director of admission just taking her/his shift at the desk. Bottom line- Don’t be jerk. This can also be applied to baristas, hotel clerks, airline gate agents (bear with me), etc. Golden rule, my friends. Embrace it.

Have fun and travel safe. Enjoy the adventure!

 

Does This Bring Me Joy?

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

Everyone has that one thing they struggle with, whether it’s watching YouTube until 1 a.m. (me), drinking enough water (still me…) or picking their socks up off the floor (also me. I regret making this list!). Months ago, as the world crept into 2019 and forged hopefully into tackling New Year’s resolutions, many people’s to do lists were topped with my #1 kryptonite: organization.

In elementary school, my mom used to get calls from teachers saying the contents of my desk were spilling, literally, out onto the floor. One time, my third grade teacher paired the class up to go through one another’s backpacks and reorganize the contents in hopes we’d stop losing assignments. Boy, did my partner have a daunting task ahead of him (sorry John).

My organizational skills today are no better. My closet is overwhelming—clothes  are unfolded, unorganized, and overstuffed. The problem just might be that when given the option on what to keep, I keep all of it. I can’t be the only one who has a second wardrobe of aspirational clothes. After all, you never know when you might need a floor length black sequined dress for a Halloween-themed masquerade ball. It could happen!

Tidying Up Your College Search

Luckily, but not coincidentally, a unique organizational method took the world by storm around the start of the New Year. Marie Kondo won our hearts, while Goodwill won the contents of our closets. Marie Kondo introduced us to the Konmari method through her Netflix series. Her minimalism-inspired approach encourages people to take stock of what they have, cherish those things that bring joy, and get rid of what does not.

What does this have to do with college admission? Good question. Right now, the college search and application processes are wrapping up for high school seniors, which means it’s time for the next class of students to get started! Juniors, right now you’re probably listening to parents and counselors advise you to build a list of colleges to visit over spring and summer break. With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, it can be absolutely overwhelming to know where, or how, to start.

Visualize the destination

The Konmari method starts with creating a vision of what you want your life to feel like once you’re done with the process—who  are you, and who would you like to be in the future?

When you start the college search process, it helps to visualize the end, so let’s work backwards. Where do you imagine yourself after high school? I don’t necessarily mean which college, specifically, but when you close your eyes and see yourself walking across a campus, what do you see? What don’t you see? There are categories that are more obvious in the college search process (big school, small school, urban school, suburban school, and so on) but don’t forget about the smaller stuff. For example, I didn’t know how important trees were to me until I moved to an area of the country that had lots of fields, but not so many trees. It mattered—and it didn’t feel like home to me.

Once you have a general vision, your college counselor is an invaluable resource to help you find a few matches. There are also online college search sites to get you started if a counselor isn’t available at your school. Still not sure where to start? Check out our college selection guide, designed to help you find the right match for you.

What fits, and what doesn’t?

A shirt can be a perfectly good shirt. A sequined dress can be a perfectly good sequined dress. And a college could be a perfectly good college. But if these things don’t suit you or your specific needs, then it’s time to move on. Before even opening up a web browser, the most important thing you can do is be thoughtful about what is most important to you (and your family!). Academic offerings, cost of attendance, distance from home, the list goes on. Choose which matter to you, and how much they matter to you. Only then can you know what fits.

A quick note on college rankings: we’ve talked time and time again about where college rankings might (or might not!) fit into the college search process. To sum it up briefly for our purposes here: once you dig a little deeper, there’s a good chance the methodology and values used in the ranking system don’t fit with the things that are most important to you. Rankings might be a good tool to help you discover colleges across the country, but keep the perspective of it being just that: one tool. You don’t have to force fit at a school just because it’s highly ranked. Also, be mindful of schools that might not top a ranking list, but could very well top yours. Keep going beyond the numbers, and keep in mind the things that are genuinely important to you.

What brings you joy?

Here’s the big one! The ultimate goal of the Konmari method is to surround yourself by the things that make you the happiest. A college might look great on paper, your goals might be aligned, but it’s still entirely possible it might not feel right. And that’s okay! Fit is entirely personal.  Much of this comes down to finding your place within the larger culture and community, and that isn’t something that can be reduced to a set of statistics in a glossy brochure or a website of major offerings.

Does the vision of the institution match your values and interests? Look up the school’s mission statement– what are they about? Look at videos and blogs, projects and organizations… who are the students at that school? It’s a magical thing to interact with a community of students and realize, sometimes for the first time, these are my people. Once you start narrowing down your list and eventually visit campuses, only you will know which campuses you see yourself at, and which you genuinely hope to return to as a student down the road.

So while I work on my closet, I wish you all the best as you work on your college search. And if you need a black sequined dress for a masquerade ball, you can now find it among the racks somewhere around Atlanta—I hope it brings you joy.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

College Bound… But Where?

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

If you’re a high school senior, it’s almost time to commit to the college or university you’ll be attending in the fall.  As you go through this process, it may seem daunting to have multiple options to choose from… confusing to figure out finances… and confounding that your friends appear to know exactly where they are headed and the reasons why.  Meanwhile, you can’t decide whether you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pizza for dinner, much less decide where to go to college.

You probably have some concerns, doubts, and fears. Is this really the best school for me?  Am I good enough to succeed there? Will I fit in? Who will I live with and where?  Then others, maybe family, add: is it going to pay off?  Aren’t you going to miss home?  How will you deal with the cold, or the snow? Will you be safe? Are you really going to borrow that much money? You may have friends who are choosing to stay home and either skip going to college or start out at the more affordable and familiar local junior college—and by their example, your concerns just loom larger.

If you weren’t already worried, you might be now! Before you get overwhelmed, here are a few tips to help you get through this process and make the best decision for your future.

STOP!  First and foremost, if you haven’t congratulated yourself on reaching this milestone where you stand upon the threshold of attending college, then do it now! Stop and remember all you have accomplished, how fortunate you are to have choices and how blessed you are to be facing such possibilities. Believe it or not, relatively few people graduating high school this year will go to college next. What may seem like problems are really gifts.

REFLECT upon how you reached this point in your life.  You worked hard.  You asked lots of good questions.  You learned to make good choices.  Others have likely helped and supported you on this journey.  Your skills, your intuition, and your mentors are with you and they will help guide you to make a good choice.  You got yourself to this point in time. Trust your instincts, but also be practical.

MAKE A LIST of the pros and cons of the final choices you are considering.  Review your list with friends, relatives, and teachers.  Listen to the thoughts that come to mind as these guides point out details about you or about the schools.  Distinguish between your past actions versus your thoughts of the future.  I personally think our past actions and choices provide much more insight into who we truly are than the way we think we should be.

For example, I have a friend who says he loves going to concerts, but his actual behavior reveals he hasn’t been to a live show in years.  When he told me he was thinking about moving to Austin to enjoy the thriving live music scene, I challenged him, and he recalled the 101 excuses he routinely has for not going to any shows—and  he lives in New York City!  What do your actions tell you about yourself, and are they more telling than your beliefs?  Now go back and rewrite your list. Narrow things down to two options.

If you can afford the time and expense, go visit the finalists one last time.  If you cannot, watch some YouTube videos about life at each school.  Read about the accomplishments of current students, recent grads and professors.  Get inspired.  Transform your quandary into: which of these two great schools would be perfect for me?

Then accept that the answer is neither—there is no perfect place! Come October, you will second guess whichever choice you made because you’ll be one month (or more) into the semester. You may have no idea what grades you are achieving, you’ll face more exams, papers, problem sets and group projects, and life overall will feel stressful.

When you go on social media, it will look like your friends at other schools are having the times of their lives, while you’re mired in stress from making a bad choice.  Don’t let social media be your barometer for relative happiness. You’ll get through the assignments. You’ll survive the stress.  You’ll learn how to succeed in a new environment, make friends from distinctly different backgrounds, and see how the power of a positive attitude can make an enormous difference in how you experience the stress of decision-making, the stress of uncertainty, the stress of the unfamiliar.  If you truly hone these skills, you may begin to see all the stress as part of the adventure. For that is what is truly ahead of you–one of life’s most remarkable adventures, in which you will build memories, skills, relationships and goals you may have never dreamed of.

TRUST that you’re where you are because of your ability to make good choices, and send in your deposit. Stop agonizing over where to go, and start picturing yourself in your new school colors, cheering for the team, pranking your roommates, talking with professors, and deciding if it matters which side of the bread you put the peanut butter on and which side you put the jelly.  Either way, it’ll still be a PB&J and if you believe it’s good, it will be.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Money Talks

Listen to the audio version here.

(No…It’s not about that.)

I spent some time with a good friend in Charlotte, NC last week. The first thing he said when we sat down was, “Been adulting hard lately, brother.” He went on to tell me about dealing with some incredibly tough and delicate HR issues at work. This week he’s staring down the barrel of another round of necessarily honest and inevitably uncomfortable meetings with a few employees.

After I left his house, I was thinking about a conversation I have coming up. I’m calling it The Three P’s: puberty, pornography, and pregnancy. Before my son turns 11 in May, I’m going to take him for a hike and then a meal at Waffle House and cover these topics.

I’m still debating and continually second guessing myself on the order, analogies, anecdotes, and appropriate amount of detail. Regardless, it’s going to be a rip-the-Band-Aid-off experience. I’ve heard a million ways to broach all of these topics. I’ve read articles and books on “raising boys” or transitioning to adolescence. I’m not sure if my plan is the right or best way to do this, but I am sure it has to be done.

Undoubtedly, some of you are wincing as you read this. Others (those who enjoy watching people trip on the sidewalk or take punishing hits in sports) would probably enjoy a Go Pro view on that day to witness in real-time the train wreck of awkwardness and bemusement. Others (not putting any wagers on percentages) are likely nodding in support or considering what you did/ should have done/ wish you’d said differently/earlier/ more directly.

Whether at work, at home, or in our community, life inevitably presents us with these critical but cringe-worthy moments and conversations. While incredibly tough, it is so much better to have them than to put them off or completely avoid them. When it comes to the college search and selection experience, the topic most families unfortunately do not discuss early or thoroughly is finances.

The Timing of the Talk

Any admission or financial aid director can share countless painful stories about families in April of the senior year who come to their office in tears. Having received a financial package, the reality of paying for college is upon them, and they have not had earnest conversations along the way.

Now, after the student has been offered admission, bought the college hoodie, and changed all online profile pictures to indicate they’re enrolling, financial lines are being drawn and emotions are running high.

If you are the parent of a junior, now is the time to start having these discussions. While you do not need to itemize all of your expenditures or accounts, you will be so much better off if you are willing to honestly and openly discuss your overall financial situation and how it relates to paying for college.

The truth is most students have no idea how much you pay in taxes, or what percentage of monthly or annual income goes to your mortgage. Understandably, they have not given any real thought to how adding college tuition may impact your family’s life and other financial obligations or goals.

“Opening the books” shifts the financing college conversation to a partnership and a collective investment. As a student’s first significant adult decision, they should be privy to the expense and implications of their college choice. These talks will help you have better discussions about opportunities to offset costs through jobs, co-ops, or internships. They will inform the questions you ask  about return on investment, careers, salaries, and how the school helps students pursue employment opportunities during and after college.

Yes, I understand this feels uncomfortable. Again, you are talking to someone who is about to discuss the darkest recesses of the interwebs with a 10-year-old. So let’s do this together!

Set Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. I’m not saying these should keep you from visiting or applying to a school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting limitations early will prevent feeling “gut punched” in April of the senior year when financial aid packages show up.

Set Conditions

“My parents will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “They have already told me I’m on my own if I look at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University,” or (though short-sighted and not recommended) “we will only pay for a college that is ranked in the top 50.”

What are your family’s conditions, and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Photo credit: CNW Group/Credit Counselling Canada

Set Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider how they can work and save money during high school, as well as ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, or the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops while in college. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

Discuss Loans

Last year, the average loan amount for students graduating from four-year colleges was approximately $30,000. Their average starting salary was approximately $50,000. Take some time to discuss the concept of loan tolerance and repayment. Check out our mock budget from The Money Blog and put some real numbers on paper.

I get you would rather be talking about The Voice or debating which Marvel movie should come out next, but having these honest, open,  and important discussions early is essential. Again, critical but cringe-worthy.

If you want to trade topics, let me know. I’ll come to your house and talk finances. You can go hiking with my son and walk him through what’s about to happen to his body. Just promise me you won’t be that family in April of the senior year in some college dean’s office passing the tissues, pointing fingers, and yelling things like, “I wish you’d told me!”

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

The College Visit Checklist

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

Back in November I wrote a blog post about moving to Atlanta over the summer, and how that move was a big step out of my comfort zone.  I often think back on my initial interview and visit to Atlanta. I imagine my first visit to Atlanta felt similar to what many students experience when they visit college campuses. Once I knew I was seriously considering a move from New York to Atlanta, I realized how important it was to not only find answers to all my questions, but to also take the time to really get to know my (at the time potential) new city. From walking around campus to trying out the food, my overall experience helped me better understand what life could look like in this new place.

I’m now more than six months in and am working with our staff to prepare for our newly admitted students to flock to campus to see if Georgia Tech is the right fit for them. Whatever college you’re considering, it’s important to make your campus visit about more than just the standard information session and tour. Take advantage of these tips to help you make the most of your time on campus.

Allow yourself extra time to explore.

During my first visit to Atlanta, I allowed myself to spend an extra day in the city to better explore the overall feel of the area.  If I was going to move here, I needed to know if I liked it.  I explored the area around campus and different neighborhoods, and also experienced some of Atlanta’s local highlights, like Ponce City Market.  When you plan your visit to campus, try to allow extra time to become more familiar with the area rather than rushing to visit another school or catching a flight home.  After your “official” visit is over, further explore academic facilities for your intended major, eat on campus, or spend some time in popular places like the student center (don’t forget to eavesdrop while you’re there!).

Talk to Students

See these tour guides? They’re also regular, every day students. Talk to them!

During your time on campus there is a real benefit to speaking with current students.  This is a great way to get an authentic look at what it is like to be a student at the institution you are visiting.  Whether it is the person behind you in line for food in the dining hall or a student employee working in one of the departments you visit, students are usually happy to chat with you. When I visited Atlanta for the first time, I had dinner with friends who lived in the area, and they gave me some great advice about moving from New York and living in Atlanta.

Build Your Own Visit

During my initial visit to Atlanta I wanted to be sure to experience some of the local highlights. I planned a full day of exploring, which included things like eating breakfast at the Silver Skillet, walking on the Belt Line, and visiting some of the downtown tourist attractions.  Just like these extras that I was able to add on, it is important for you to customize your visit to make the most of it.  When not restricted by time, you can make a whole day out of your time on campus, even if you are only scheduled to attend a 2-hour information session and tour.  At many institutions, departments and colleges offer sessions about specific academic programs.  Even if there is not a formal session scheduled, reach out in advance and talk to someone, as chances are someone would be able to meet with you.

Experience the Weather

This one is a bit more difficult because you cannot always visit during specific times of year, but it definitely is important to understand the weather you might encounter during your college career.  I went to school in Upstate New York, where it is cold, grey and windy for a large portion of the academic school year.  It is very different to visit there in the summer than it is in February.  Although weather was not a big factor for me personally, if it is for you, make sure to plan your visit accordingly.  If you are going to live somewhere for four years, it helps to know what it will feel like.  (Although it does get cold in Atlanta, I have been enjoying the much milder winter!)

Ask for Advice

Georgia Tech admission staff appreciates the work of school counselors! #nscw19

Prior to my visit to Atlanta, I reached out to a number of people to get advice.  I got food recommendations, learned local lingo (like OTP and ITP), and learned more about Georgia Tech. Utilizing resources like your college counselor are crucial throughout the whole college decision-making process.  Ask for their advice before you visit campus.  They can help ensure you make the most out of your visit.  They may be able to put you in contact with a student at the institution you are visiting, or share some information they know about the school.  A conversation with your school counselor will help better prepare you for your visit, which in the end will result in a more informed visit.

(To all of the counselors reading this post – thank you for all of the work that you do with students, we really appreciate it.  And happy National School Counselor Week!)

On behalf of all of the campus visit professionals around the country, we are looking forward to seeing you on campus over the next few months. Happy Visiting!

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page or enter your email address. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.