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Admissions Offices and the Campus Visit


The Information Session is an integral part of the campus visit experience.  In essence, this is the “dog and pony show” of the admissions office.  Each college runs these a bit differently.  Sometimes you’ll have to sit through a slick marketing video (which is probably available off the college’s website, too).  Sometimes, a student panel will offer their impressions.  Sometimes it’s more of a lecture by an admissions representative.
Whatever the format, very little of the information you receive in this information session is different or even more useful than the things you get off the college’s website.  These presentations are often heavily scripted, and admissions folks are coached to “stay on message.”  Still, most information sessions are worth an hour of your time, if only because information you already have will be reinforced and reemphasized for you in a new way.  More information is always better than less–as long as you just keep in mind that these are also sales pitches.
Here are some elements of the presentation you are likely to hear:
Student-to-faculty ratios.  These are useless statistics that supposedly prove that the educational experience is intimate and high quality.  Read this post on student-to-faculty ratios to learn how bogus these statistics really are.  Make sure they tell you about average class sizes, and the percentage of classes that enroll fewer than 25 students.  Also ask how many lecture halls on campus accommodate more than 100 students.
Chances of admission.  You may here things about “average GPA” and “average test scores” in the presentation.  Take these with a grain of salt. These are aggregate statistics and they have little or no bearing on your individual chances of admission.  Your chances may be much better…or much worse.  If you want to ask questions that may give you a better indication, ask things like, “what percentage of your acceptances go to children of alumni?” or “what percentage of your acceptances go to recruited athletes?”
Bazillions of Clubs.  Every college inflates the number of clubs, and then also tells students that if they want to start up a new one, all they have to do is ask.  These aren’t lies.  But the number of clubs is usually inflated because the admissions office never culls the list of clubs or ensures that their figures reflect the number and kinds of clubs being administered by the Student Affairs office.  Thus you will find that a bunch of the clubs on the list have been inactive on campus for five or six years.  Of course, this is not a problem, unless you are an juggler and you see that there is a juggling club, and then you matriculate to find that there is only one member of that club:  you.  Don’t be impressed by the numbers and variety of clubs.  Be impressed if they have an active group of students that cares about the things that interest you.  So inquire as to the health and strength of the clubs that attract you the most.
We are a Community. Every campus wants you to feel welcome; that you will be loved and appreciated; that you will fit in.  So they will stand up and talk about how warm and friendly the place is.  Some people are better at delivering this message than others.  I have students who return from campus tours who have been lulled into a stupor by admissions folks who do a great job of delivering the “we are a happy family” speech.  I’m not saying that this message is untrue.  I’m only pointing out that this is a part of every college’s marketing message.  And it will be incumbent upon you, the visitor, to figure out whether or not you will feel comfortable and welcome in that community.  Don’t take some admissions representative’s word for it!
In the next installment, we’ll explore the importance of visiting the area surrounding the campus.
You may also want to check out earlier posts on general considerations for campus visits, the practicalities of a college visit, and tips for taking the campus tour.
Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant
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