Congratulations! You’ve found yourself at a confounding crossroads: you’ve been accepted to multiple schools (seriously, congratulations) and they all relatively fit your checklist of requirements. Essentially, on paper, your pro/con lists are about the same, and while they may have unique mascots, making a decision between them at this point feels like it would be akin to throwing a dart at the wall blindfolded.
So, you turn to your folks and ask for assistance. Or you make the decision yourself. It’s time. The post-acceptance college visit. This visit is fundamentally different from college visits where you were not yet accepted. Those were usually more formal–you took the tours, attended the programs, and were sold on the schools (or not). Parents or teachers often accompanied these with fond recollections of college memories and suggestions about what would make School X better than School Y–note that bias to the adult’s alma mater. You were starry-eyed, imagining “COLLEGE” and every school that fit certain standards could be the college of your dreams. But now that schools have actually accepted you, things have changed. Here are some key ways to approach the post-acceptance college visit.
1. Consider going without your parents, if the trip is short enough and you can get there yourself. If not, at least suggest some time to yourself to wander campus alone. This alone time provides you with the opportunity to do what you’ll probably be doing a fair amount of time at college: enjoying the campus by yourself, for yourself. You can explore on your own and determine how you would feel wandering such a school for the next four years.
2. Talk to other students as if you were a student there. This tactic was employed by a student speaker at a panel for a school I visited. She wanted to see how comfortable she felt approaching and conversing with the students on campus. What would you like to hear from a conversation or two with people on campus? Do you even feel comfortable enough to approach students on campus? Is that level of approachability important to you?
3. Visit areas both on and off campus central to student activity. This may include the school recreational center (if you’re into that sort of thing) or maybe the off-campus coffee shop. No need to check out all of them, but if these places are where everyone goes to study or hang out, you should see if they provide the right vibe. There’s a coffee shop right by my apartment (okay, there are three, but I like this one) and everyone I know loves to suggest studying there. This is key! If everyone wants to study at these places, you may want to see if you’re comfortable there beforehand. Plus, it gives you a local familiarity that most freshmen don’t have those first few weeks of school and can help ease the homesickness.
4. Look at the bulletin boards. What do you see? Flyers for free screenings of the latest movie? Local bands coming to visit? “The next Philosophy meeting is coming up! Don’t miss it!” Holding a banner for my school’s literary magazine in A&M’s type of student center, I watched a mother walk up to our adjoining table and start discussing what it’s about. She took a flyer and I later found out that her daughter was a junior, considering A&M. She loves writing, her mother said, and knew that her daughter would be intrigued by a literary magazine. Look for similar interests displayed on campus. If they aren’t on the bulletin boards, does that mean they aren’t there or don’t receive support? Do you think you could bring together an organization you don’t see on campus? Put on plays in the plaza? What and who are vying for your attention when you see these bulletin boards, and do you like the idea?
4. Skip the tours, or feel free to ditch at any time. Tours are often for the prospective student, and while they can be informative, it’s also likely information you’ve already heard. If you’ve been on the tour before, why rehash what you already know? If you haven’t and could use some guided exploration, do feel comfortable leaving the tour at any time. Look for the buildings where most students in your potential major have their classes. Be warned, not all schools will have such buildings. For example, there are at least four engineering buildings at A&M and I’ve been in two of them. The classes? Three English classes and an Anthropology course.
5. Go on a random day of not perfect weather. In Texas, March practically guarantees agreeable weather (sometimes not) and it’s hard to know what the weather is like in October, when the sky seems perpetually unzipped and we all get free feet soaks slogging to class. So try to make every visit not be on a perfect spring day, with the birds singing and the sun shining. Know what cold weather is like–are the buildings super tall and together so wind doesn’t hit you very hard? When it rains (or snows), are there lots of awnings and other forms of cover to run to? Every school can be great on its happy days, but you’ll want to know how much you can’t stand it on its twerpy days.
The key about all of these tips is to help you see the personal touches of each school. That’s the point of the college visit, similar to your opportunity to interview in the college application process. They can sell themselves as hard as they can through brochures, personalized emails and flyers, and phone calls from professors from the department you want to enter, but how can you know them really unless you visit? When you find yourself in a situation where every college hits the standard on paper, it’s time to give them the extra chance to personalize themselves as they might have done for you. Why? Because this will be your home and community for the next four years and you deserve a place that will make you happy. Enjoy your visit!