A couple months ago, I visited a college and took a tour with a student tour guide. The only other people on the tour were a high school student and her father. After the tour guide introduced himself and asked us visitors where we were from, he asked the high school student what she was interested in majoring in. She responded, “Um, I don’t know. Maybe business?” The tour guide explained that the college does not have a business major and then went on to tell the student about a program the college offers in place business.
I don’t know if this student was embarrassed, but I certainly would have been. While her response to the tour guide’s question may seem innocent enough, it quickly revealed that she had not researched the college before visiting. Her lack of preparation was further evidenced by the fact that, during the tour, neither she nor her father asked a single question. While the tour guide probably could have cared less (hey, it made his job easier), imagine if this student also had an interview with an admissions officer while she was on campus. Had she answered a question about her intended major the way she answered it on the tour, or had she been offered the opportunity to ask questions and not done so, the admissions officer likely would not have been impressed.
The point of this story is that visiting a college is a great way to learn more about it, but that doesn’t mean you should go in blind. If you want to make the most of a college visit, you should do some research beforehand. First and foremost, find out if the school has the major(s) you’re interested in. If not, does it really makes sense to spend your time and money (and that of your parents) visiting? Probably not.
Secondly, take some time to explore the college’s website for information about things that are important to you. Do you want to live in a single-sex dorm? Better find out if the school has them. Hoping to join a fraternity or sorority? Make sure they exist at the college. (Not all schools have a Greek system.) Hoping to write for the school newspaper but don’t want to major in journalism? You need to see if that’s possible. If you have questions whose answers you can’t find on a college’s website, call the admissions office.
As I explained in my blog post, “When Doing College Research, People Are One of the Best Resources”, going on a campus tour enables students to not only see the college’s physical setting, but also to ask questions of a current student — the tour guide. Take advantage of that opportunity to get inside information about what life at the school is really like. Better yet, talk to other students in addition to the tour guide. But before you do, do some research so that you can ask relevant questions about what you’re interested in. And if you’re going to have an interview during your visit, research becomes even more important.
With a little preparation, you can avoid being caught in an embarrassing situation like the one I witnessed. Additionally, you’ll get a great deal more out of your time on campus.