Plan ahead & visit when school is in sessionAug 12, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Start the process in your junior year, visit when school is in session and allow enough time to shmooze with the students.
Our son was in France for his junior year of high school and came home for spring vacation in order to visit some colleges, which was prudent. We started out at the three Maine schools (Bowdein, Colby & Bates) and made the mistake of not booking flights in advance, so could have gone to the Orient for the price of the tickets. But seeing three liberal arts colleges seemed smart, so we did it. The three schools are in some superficial ways similar, so we were forced to hang out in the cafeterias and speak to the students to try to make distinctions between them. That proved to be a useful method of feeling out the mood of the campus, the types of students who go there and the rate of satisfaction. We asked questions like, "What would you change? What other schools had you considered and why did you choose to come here? What's the class size?"
Our next outing was to Chicago, where we visited U of C and Northwestern, two very different schools. Had we not been there when classes were in session, we would have found it significantly harder to get the sense of the campus.
Now we were honing in on school size, laid back vs. competitive, urban, rural and suburban. We went on the tours, tried to see dorms and sample food in the cafeteria, sat in on information sessions. By now, we were sensitive to what we were seeing and hearing.
The process continued at the very start of senior year, when we visited Hopkins, Wash U in St. Louis, Brandeis, Tufts and Georgetown, all very different, each having strong point and attractions.
The websites are useful for finding out schedules of information sessions and tours, so visit, ask questions and make sure you allow enough time at each school to get the flavor of the place. Sitting in on a class seemed less useful because of the iffiness of what you might be seeing. Speaking to the students felt more important. Walking on the campus and visiting dorms, spending meal times in the cafeteria -- all these were truly helpful in feeling out where you'd fit best.
Doing all this in a timely fashion allowed our son to apply early and he had a less stressful senior year after getting into Tufts.
We wish you all well!
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