There’s nothing like the feeling of reading a college acceptance letter. The big envelope, the “Congratulations!” at the top of the page, the carefully-written cursive of the admissions officer’s signature—all are signs that you’ve done it! You’re going to college. In a few months, you’ll be making a decision that will shape the rest of your life. The only thing standing in your way? Accepted Students Day. If your mind is not yet made up, you’ve got to survey the options. You may be attending one open house or fifteen—but, in any case, what should you look for? How will you know that this school is the place for you? Don’t worry—instead, on your visit, keep an eye out for these five things:
1. Notice how the students interact—with you and with each other
A signature feature of an Accepted Students Day is the rah-rah receiving line that families normally walk into upon their entrance to campus. Whether or not it thrills you, try to see how the students—most of whom are volunteers—greet you. The fact that they chose to wake up at 6 A.M. and welcome you to their university can potentially show you just how much you’re wanted. Think of it this way: you’re already in. The stress of waiting for a decision is over, so enjoy the attention. You should feel excited to be there! Also notice how they are around one another. Can you tell that they love working together? If so, maybe you’ll feel compelled to join them in the fall. Be sure, if not visiting during a spring break, to see how and where the other students go about their routines. It can help you visualize a potential scenario in which you’re one of them. Scary thought, I know, but what better time to observe than on Accepted Students Day?
2. Listen to the speakers
You may not feel energized enough to listen to the President or Dean give a 45 minute-long speech at 9 AM; that’s understandable. Yet, what he or she will say in this relatively short time is important. Do their words have an impact on you? Do you feel that your morals and values—religious, ethical, or otherwise—are present in their spiel? If a speech or story that they tell leaves an impact on you, you’ll remember it from the time you leave campus to the time you potentially move in. For me, listening to the President of my university speak has stuck with me for almost two years now. I remember feeling special; sitting among a crowd of potentially future peers, listening to why he believed our decision—no matter what—should be one of careful consideration. In the end, because he relayed to us, the prospective students, the idea of community and compassion that he saw daily throughout campus, I was sold.
3. Talk to a professor or two
Do you know what you want to study? Have you been accepted to a particular program or major within a university? If so, consider speaking to a professor or faculty member (or two) during your visit. Usually, specific academic departments will have their own version of a mini-open house for prospective students to explore their respective programs. Even better, staff members who specialize in these areas should be present. If you’re undeclared, don’t worry—but consider taking a look at a handful of these smaller events within an Accepted Students Day. Professors and department heads are eager to meet you, and want to show you why they’ve spent their lives studying a particular field. Their stories can potentially inspire you to begin your own. Ask them anything—from credits to studying abroad to how they perceive the student body—and they will be more than willing to put in their two cents. Much like hearing the opening address at the beginning of the day, these conversations can be memorable. Who knows? Maybe, in a few months’ time, you will be sitting in the classroom of a professor you’ve already met.
4. Explore on your own.
Your Accepted Students Day visit may include a guided tour, much like the ones given during admissions season visits. In fact, if you’ve visited the school before, chances are you will go on the same tour. The difference? You’ve been accepted. There is no reason to walk around a particular campus with nervousness looming in the back of your mind. Instead, after the guided tour, take some time to venture off for a few minutes. If you need to bring along a map, do so. This is your chance to get acclimated to what could potentially be your future home, so take it all in. A huge indicator of student life? The student center or student forum. The hub of campus is the ideal location to people watch in the non-creepiest way possible. Grab a coffee and go in any direction. People will direct you if you happen to lose your way, but losing your way may come in handy—if you feel like you could be walking these paths with your backpack on in the middle of a 90-degree August or a 10-degree winter, this could be the place for you.
5. Reflect—can you see yourself in the middle of it all?
My final piece of advice is, on your way back home, write. Write a list, phrases, fragments, whatever helps you to remember all that you’ve seen and done throughout the day. Looking back on all of your notes after a handful of Accepted Students Day visits will help to remind you of the pros and cons of everything from food to activities to professors. Writing down single words is even helpful. If, after reading through every jotted word and thought, you hold only fond memories and excitement for what could be just around the corner, that could be a large indicator. If you’re having a harder time deciding and have narrowed down your choices to a short list, however, then consider speaking to current students or contacting those professors again. It could take one e-mail to solidify your decision.
Choosing where to go to college may not always be the easiest decision. The bottom line is this: where do you know you will flourish? They say that college is the best four years of your life—so, here’s hoping that you’ll find the place to spend them on Accepted Students Day.