One of the most informative things a college applicant can do in my opinion is overnight (yes, it’s a verb) at a school they are interested in. This gives the student firsthand information from the school, firsthand information on the atmosphere, and allows for the applicant to attempt to envision him or herself at the school. As a high school senior, I did two overnights under very different circumstances, and with very different pros and cons, but they were similar in that they gave me a more informed idea of the schools.
The First Overnight
I slept on my first dorm room floor last September at a school I was already in love with. This first overnight was actually with someone I knew from my hometown, which made finding a host easy. Rooming with someone you know is quite simple: when requesting an overnight, a school usually has a space on the form to request a specific person, but make sure you check with the person in question first. Don’t be offended if they say no, because there are tons of reasons that may lead to this aside from them not liking you. They may have a huge paper due around then, or their roommate is not comfortable with it, or their room is so tiny that no one would be happy.
Fortunately, the person I asked to do an overnight with was happy to host me. I was delighted to know my host because she knew more or less what I would or would not be interested in; she knew what type of people I’d like to meet and what sort of things I might like to do. We went to a communal living space for dinner because I had told her that was something I liked about the school, and we went for a midnight snack at a late night cafeteria because she knew I would be impressed that there was such a place. However, while we do have mutual friends and talk at parties, this girl and I were not exactly best friends, and in fact, the overnight was the most amount of time I had spent with her. I sensed that she felt pressured to show me a good time more than show me the school because she cared more about our friendship than what I was learning. It also made it harder later when I ultimately decided not to go that school, because I had to tell her myself and did not want her to think it was her fault. Still I did have a great time, and we continue to be friends.
The Second Overnight
My second overnight did not occur until April, when I had already decided to go to the school I was visiting. I did this because I thought it would be a good way to get excited for the coming school year…and I also wanted to miss two days of school. It was cool to go on the train, find a cab, drive through the gate and think, “This is what it’s going to be like. It’s almost really here,” but it was also very scary. While I wanted the trip to go well, I had to be prepared for it to be horrible because at that point there would be nothing I could do.
Something to remember about every single college info session, visit, and overnight is that every school can be viewed from many different perspectives, and thus, should not be defined by one. All you can do is make the best of the information you get. If you talk to ten students who love their school and then one that hates it, remember that every school will have students that hate it, and everyone loves and hates their school on different days. So going into my overnight, I tried to know that this, while it would probably be awesome, should not scare me if it did not go well.
I ended up being paired with an intern from the admissions office because the girl who was supposed to show me around had gotten sick. Unlike my other overnight, I knew nothing about this girl, not even the basic information you usually get when being assigned a host. I found her to be very nice, and her job actually helped us both because she knew what a prospective student really cared about. Even so, there was the awkward tension of spending a prolonged amount of time with a total stranger, but in this case it was more or less expected because we didn’t know each other. I did not get as much of an inside look because this was not even a one-time volunteer situation but also her job, and so there was absolutely no bending of the rules. Still, she did show me some of the parts of a school not mentioned in any info session, like the sub-par kitchen and half-dead printer.
Overnights are one way to get a good look at a school, but there are many things to consider before going into one. Find out if staying with an acquaintance is an option, and if you want to go that route. Be realistic about how well you know this person and how to make this easy for both of you. Bring a sleeping bag so no one has to worry about where you’ll sleep and some homework so that if they need to do work you’ll have something to do as well.
Whether your host is a friend or a total stranger, be respectful of them because this is their school and their life. During both overnights, I did occasionally get the feeling that people were babysitting me, but again this is not a host’s fault, it is just an inescapable reminder that you are still only on your way to being in college. An overnight will probably have some awkward moments, but in the end I think they are a very useful option to the college applicant.