With its top-ranked undergraduate business program, serene surroundings, and Fighting Irish football tradition, the University of Notre Dame is increasingly attracting top students from around the world. With the crisp air of autumn upon us, we decided it was time to visit Notre Dame’s campus in order to get a sense of what current students have to say about undergraduate life as leprechauns. Notre Dame did not disappoint.
With summer upon us, many families take road trips, and parents of high school students may think about including one or two campus visits along the way. This is a great idea – as long as you understand you cannot get a true sense of a college culture when you visit during the summer. The campus will feel completely different once it is swarming with students and professors during the semester. However, it’s still better to visit colleges during the summer than not to visit at all. If you live in the Northeast and can plan visits for late August, that’s ideal because many college campuses start in late August while high schools usually begin around Labor Day. By late August, most college campuses are in full swing.
Visiting colleges with my daughter Amanda was incredibly enjoyable because we made sure not to let it get stressful. Instead, we focused on learning the factors she wanted and did not want in a college and getting a sense of the feel of each school. As I wrote in my new book, Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter:
It may sound crazy, but I think that your first visits should include three colleges to which you do not think you will actually apply. Here’s why: if you are lucky enough to have visited colleges early in this process (maybe in 10th grade), your attitude and grades may shift a lot before you apply during your senior year. Don’t get caught up in the “name-brand schools;” visit schools to just learn as much as you can about what it means to attend college.
Many families traveling to Boston like to visit the magnificent Harvard Quad. And why not, it’s a world-renowned university in one of the best cities in the US to attend college. But the reality is that even if you have phenomenal grades and near-perfect scores, you will probably not get into Harvard. Also, keep in mind that Harvard does not count ‘demonstrating interest.’ This means that unlike many other private colleges in our country that track your interest (such as visiting) as a factor in admissions, Harvard does not. So while it may seem fun to visit this top-tier school, you should really want to focus on schools that you have a better chance of getting into. So if you must visit Harvard, please remember that there are about 80 colleges that combine to bring 250,000 college students to the Boston area. Find several other colleges in the vicinity that appeal to you while visiting the city and make the trip fun and enjoyable, and not stressful.
If you can find colleges early in this process that you love and think you can get into, that can be a game changer for your emotional well-being as you navigate high school. Amanda, co-author of Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter, said, “I can’t even explain to you how nice it was to be ecstatic about schools that I knew should accept me comfortably. From private, liberal arts schools to state schools and their honors programs, I had options that I loved and was excited about in tenth grade.”
Think of visiting colleges like window shopping, especially when you first begin. You are looking to evaluate what it is important to you. If you walk into a lecture auditorium that seats 1,000 students and you currently attend a small high school, that lecture hall may feel overwhelming to you. On the other hand, it may be exciting to have some anonymity if you felt a small classroom was too confining. There is no right or wrong way to feel about college. Your likes/interests may change over time, and this is 100% fine. There are about 4,000 colleges in America and dozens of them will meet your academic and social interests.
For initial visits, try to visit a city school, a rural school, a small private school and a big state school. This will give you an idea of the different options throughout the country. It’s often hard to find the time during the school year to visit colleges, but going when students and professors who are typically on campus is the best way to really understand the school’s culture. Depending on where you live, you can even start by driving locally to colleges near your home. If getting to campuses is too much, or if you are trying to watch your budget, go online; the virtual tour is a great resource to at least give you a sense of a college’s physical layout.
Editor’s Note: We are happy to welcome Jill as an occasional contributor to Admissions Intel. For more insights into the journey to college, we encourage you to Pre-order Jill’s book, which comes out on August 1, 2017.
“I’ll visit the campus if I’m admitted. Visiting takes too much time; besides, I’ll probably just go to the top school that admits me.”
For students who have the means to travel, but who plan to give more weight to rankings than personal fit in their final college choice, skipping exploratory college visits might represent a reasoned admissions strategy.
“After all,” they surmise, “wouldn’t it be a waste of time to explore a college in person before you even know if you will receive an offer of admission?”
No, for so many reasons that have nothing to do with rankings. But regardless of how you plan to select among any of your admission offers, a preliminary college visit can affect whether or not that offer is even made.
To put yourself in the best position possible as a candidate for admission, visit the campus before you submit your application. Here are three times you’ll be glad you did:
1. When the school tracks demonstrated interest
Many schools track demonstrated interest in the hopes of increasing their yield (the percentage of students offered admission who enroll). Since schools only want to admit students who will accept their offer, they use big data to gauge your enrollment intentions; a visit to campus will help you signal your intentions to enroll (if admitted) more convincingly.
Beyond the admissions presentation and campus tour, your visit provides additional opportunities to demonstrate interest, such as introducing yourself to your regional admissions representative (that’s the person who will manage your application) or setting up an on-campus interview. The more communication you initiate, the greater your level of interest and your likelihood of accepting an offer of admission (according to the enrollment management software that will be tracking it); therefore, the greater your chances of receiving one.
2. When the essay prompt is: “Why Us?”
Supplemental essays provide a college with more information about you. The most common supplemental essay prompt is some version of “Why Us?”
- How did you first learn about Vassar and what aspects of our college do you find appealing?
- What are the unique qualities of Northwestern that make you want to attend?
- What excites you about attending Notre Dame?
- Please discuss why you consider Duke to be a good match for you
If you have visited campus you will be able to enhance any “Why Us?” essays with references to your own live experiences. Your genuine, specific observations or anecdotes will help you make more concrete connections between what you are looking for and what the college offers, resulting in a better supplemental essay. Better essays increase your odds of admission.
3. When you are placed on the waitlist
Students who receive a waitlist spot each spring in lieu of an offer usually have to move on — the chances of that changing to an offer of admission are usually slim.
But if this happens to you at a school you still very much want to attend, you can ask for further consideration. You’ll strengthen your position if you can point to continued academic success, recent achievements, and the school’s place as your top choice. While you are making your case — and making it clear that you will attend if admitted — think about how much more believable you will be if you can mention your campus visit…
Colleges certainly understand when expenses and long distance prevent students from coming to campus before they apply. But if you can manage to get there on a weekend or school holiday, consider how you may increase your admission possibilities by scheduling a visit before you apply.
No matter how much you think you know about a college, there’s always more to learn. And the best way to add to your knowledge of campus culture, the kinds of students who attend and how they relate to one another, who serves on faculty, how programs and majors are structured, the quality and availability of student services, and the general “feel” of a college is by taking the time to visit.
Colleges know they are more likely to attract students who schedule information sessions and take tours. And they put a great deal of time and thought into considering how they present themselves to the outside world. It’s up to the visitor to look deeper—go off the beaten path and do a little independent investigative work by talking to students and observing campus life.
While colleges may consider the visit as “demonstrating interest,” you need to think of it as doing your due diligence—an opportunity to truly understand why a college deserves to be on your list. In so doing, you’ll be rewarded with a solid foundation for articulating in an essay or during an interview why it is you want to attend a particular college or university.
But it’s hard to get a clear picture beyond basic bricks and mortar if you schedule time on campus during student holidays. For that reason, you might want to take into consideration “spring break” weeks when putting together plans for a college road trip during the coming months. And luckily, there are two really good resources for you to use:
Springbreak.com: Mostly targeted to college students anxious to book flights and hotels, this site provides start dates for an impressive number of colleges listed alphabetically—from Adelphi (March 11) to Yale (March 4).
STS Travel: Again, this list is designed to help undergrads plan their vacations, and sorts colleges by dates—from Augustana (February 18) to Elmira (April 15). Note that the links STS provides don’t take you to college websites!
Hopefully your spring break won’t coincide with their spring break. But if it does, remember that a campus visit under less-than-perfect circumstances is better than no visit at all. It’s just that important!
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009. Never miss one of Nancy’s articles – subscribe to her mailing list below.
Twenty years ago Indiana was doing its thing, but fewer people were noticing. Today, IU is especially attractive for aspiring business majors, but its strength in communications and the arts are also big draws. The campus itself is well-laid out and welcoming to both in-state students and the increasing numbers of students choosing to attend from both out-of-state and outside of the USA. We also love that IU still has rolling admission!
Boilermakers have a lot of love for their school, and after visiting West Lafayette, Indiana, we can see why. It’s consistently ranked as one of America’s best research universities and the campus is great too. Purdue may not be as popular with “opinion elites” on the East and West coasts as its cousin two hours to the south (IU Bloomington), but after this visit we can’t explain why.
University of Wisconsin has really come into its own. Once a perpetual bridesmaid to perennial bride University of Michigan, these days students in the the know have a hard time choosing between Michigan’s higher academic rankings in many – though not all disciplines – and Wisconsin’s increasingly alluring location right on a lake in an endearing small city. While Madison is magnificent in the late summer don’t let this video fool you; winters in Wisconsin are often wild and windy whiteouts.
Michigan State University may be sports-obsessed, but it is also much more: a big school that is easy to make small, a diverse school both academically and socially, and a school that is pretty down to Earth and chill, especially compared to its rival one hour or so to the southeast.
Real students. Real opinions. Real University of Michigan. Admissions Intel visits A2 (A squared, a.k.a. Ann Arbor), Michigan during the most beautiful time of year in America’s Upper Midwest in order to speak with current Wolverines about real life at one of the world’s most prestigious research universities.
DePaul University has several campuses, but its main one is located in the heart of the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood, and this is where we wrap up our tour of the Chicago area’s top colleges and hear from some current Blue Demons about real life as an undergraduate at DePual. Real students. Real opinions. Real DePaul University.