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Campus Visits… Bring Em’ On! by Bryan G. Nance

This entry will focus on the dos and don'ts of a fall visit to a college or university that you are interested in attending.

If I’m not mistaken this is the time of year when you begin in earnest to think about where to apply for college. For some of you it means going through the mountains of mail that various schools have been so gracious to send you. I know that most of you will put it all in a big box glance at the material once, then place it all by the curb to be recycled.

Why do we send you all of that stuff? Good question. The answer is that we hope you’ll like enough of what you see to want to apply for admission or at least want to come for a visit. So, you go through the box, pull out 10 schools that seem promising… what do you do next? Go visit if you can, silly! This entry will focus on the dos and don’ts of a fall visit to a college or university that you are interested in attending.

Rules of Engagement

  1. Do not let the cost of tuition dictate where you visit or where you apply. At this point you should not care how much a school costs. You are in the process of determining where to apply at this point.The only way to know that you can’t afford a school is after you’ve applied, have been accepted and you have applied for and received your financial aid award. Until all of that has happened, you have no idea what you can afford.
  2. Choose wisely, because time is money. Given your course load and extra-curriculars do you really think that you’ll have the time to visit 10 schools?
  3. Choose wisely, because money is money. Visiting colleges can be an expensive proposition. Make sure that you are going to a place that you are REALLY, REALLY interested in attending.
  4. Whenever possible, attend an official campus preview. Most will take place during one of the many fall federal holidays.
  5. If money is a concern, contact the college that you are interested in visiting to see if they offer subsidized visitation programs. Before you ask, MIT does not. sorry :-(
  6. Do your homework. Learn as much about the the place that you plan to attend. Know when the information sessions and campus tours are given, then plan your day around those two activities.
  7. Did I mention that you should attend the information session and campus tour? P.S. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES! All tours are walking tours and many can last as long as 90 minutes… even in the driving rain.
  8. Ask if it is possible to have lunch with a current student. If yes, ask to eat at the most popular student hangout.
  9. Traveling as a family can be stressful. Agree ahead of time what you will do together and what you will do separately. This will keep all involved sane. Here are a few examples: Together – Campus Tours, Campus Information Sessions, Financial Aid Sessions.
  10. Go it alone at some point during the visit. You need to know if the the place that you are visiting is where you want to spend the next 4 years of your life. Go to the place were students congregate and just hang out. Check the vibe. See if it is your kind of place.
  11. Parents: while your child is off discovering the campus, you should use that time to visit places of interest to you. Go to Campus Safety and find out how that institution plans to keep your baby out of harm’s way; check out the banking facilities, check to see which cell phone providers offer the plans an coverage in that area; eat a meal in one of the campus dining facilities; travel as the students do to see how far of a walk the dormitories, class rooms and other campus hot spots are from each other.
  12. Get off the beaten path. Visit the Office of Minority Affairs and find out first hand what kinds of activities and cultural events are available to students; Visit the student center to see what kinds of clubs are offered. If possible, pick one and attend their meeting. Visit the town surrounding the College. Depending on the location of the school, it may be an extension of the university.
  13. Go visit your intended major/department. Again, plan ahead and see if you can meet with a professor.
  14. Randomly walk up to students and ask their opinion of the place that you are visiting. I’ve found that students will always be candid with you. (There is one caveat: every student hates his or her school during mid-term and finals week!)
  15. If you are adventurous, plan an individualized visit. Many schools (including MIT) have overnight visiting programs that are designed to give you a first hand view of the college by having you stay overnight with a current undergraduate student. What better way to lean about a college?
  16. Take notes! There is no way that you are going to remember everything, especially if you visit multiple schools. If your parents accompany you to the visit ask them to also take notes so that you can compare on the trip home. Remember, if you ask your parents to take notes, you have to listen to what they have to say. Be sure to give clear directives about the things that are important to you. Use that as a basis for “note-taking” guidelines. If you went it alone, notes can helpful in conveying your experience to you parents, guidance counselor, etc. when you return home. Above all else, come late October and you trying to remember why you wanted to apply early to a school in the first place.

While on Campus, here are 9(ish) questions to ask:

  1. What are weekends like?
  2. What is the Financial Aid process. What are the deadlines? Are you need-based or merit-based? What kinds of scholarships are available to me? Does work study mean that I’ll get a hair-net & spoon for the food line a campus dining?
  3. How much is the average financial aid award? How much of that is covered by loans?
  4. What is your overall retention rate? What is the retention rate for minority students?
  5. What kind of services do you offer students in making the transition from HS to college? Be sure that you get an answer that covers both academic and socialscenarios.
  6. Do you offer the academic program that I’m interested in? What other majors fit my study interests? (This is very important for Pre-Med, Pre-Law & Pre-Vet as most colleges do not have any pre- majors)
  7. Are there any rules or guidelines that are unique to your college application process? For example, MIT strongly encourages Educational Counselor interviews; and West Point requires a letter of recommendation from a US Senator.
  8. Are there any rules or guidelines that are unique to your college? For example, The University of Virginia has a very strict honor code and at MIT even if you major in Music and Theater Arts you still receive a bachelors of Science degree upon graduation.
  9. Whom should I contact if I have more questions?

Give this a try and let me know how it worked out for you. Did I leave something out? Drop me a line and let me know. (This means you too, parents!) Enough from me. Let me know what you think!

20 responses to “Campus Visits… Bring Em’ On!”

  1. AnotherMom says:

    Bryan,

    Great points. So glad I have a break from this for a couple of years from the parental side. Another question for applicants to ask would be what percentage of courses are Core requirements. For some students this can be a make or break situation. I know of one case where a student was considering a liberal arts college although the student intended to major in the sciences. The number and type of liberal arts courses that were offered resulted in my friend’s child dropping that school from her list. While core requirements are important, it is equally important to examine this in detail. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you really can’t delve into your major until the last two years because of humanities requirements. The opposite would hold true if you intend to be a humanities major and don’t want to take a lot of math/science courses. Of course, if you are reading this blog, the last sentence probably won’t apply to you. grin

  2. Scott says:

    I see the Nance Effect has taken hold at MIT – now potential MIT’ers are receiving Bryan’s fount of knowledge (a secret that potential Cornellians benefitted from for a number of years!).

    Pay heed, for Bryan knows what he’s talking about and has the experience to back up his words.

  3. Hello AnotherMom!

    You will be happy to know that Miles has 2 teeth and is teething and drooling like mad.

    You are absolutely correct in your comments. One of the reasons why MIT ca be so flexible with the amount of time that we allow students to choose a major isthe fact that we have universal GIR’s (General Institute Requiremnts). Since the GIR’s are universal, no matter where you decide to major, you are not behind your peers.

    By the same token, you need to be comfortable with an education that analytically based, reguardless of your major.

    Do your homework no matter where you decide to go.

  4. Lyndzy says:

    Bryan,

    Thanks for the tips; they should really help wind down the hecticness of campus visits.

    Mites 06!!!

  5. Isaiah says:

    Bryan,

    Your first rule of engagement really popped out to me. When I started looking for and applying to colleges, I was originally drawn towards the colleges that cost less money. However, when the financial aid awards came in, many of the colleges that I thought would be really expensive were some of the cheapest, and the ones that originally seemed less expensive gave lousy financial aid deals and ended up more expensive.

    Also, when considering colleges, ask if their financial aid departments guarantee to meet all demonstrated need. I know MIT and many other colleges do, but some don’t. It’s something else to keep in mind when looking at where you want to apply. Either way, though, money isn’t the only thing to consider, as you already pointed out.

  6. lupine says:

    Some other questions to ask during a college visit:

    1. Is housing guaranteed all four years? It’s not something that you can assume is true at all places.

    2. How easy is it to change majors once enrolled? Some universities are divided into separate colleges and changing majors down the road may not be as simple as you think.

    3. How many students get to do research?

    4. The “personality” of the school. You see this in the little details that are everywhere. For instance, when every course of study goes by a number, and even the bathrooms are given numbers (ie. 7-107), you know you’re at a school that celebrates math.

  7. Erik Chen says:

    For everyone that is visiting MIT, I highly recommend that you check out the differences between East Campus and West Campus. Spend some time in East Campus because I doubt you will find anywhere else quite like it.

  8. AnotherMom says:

    Bryan,

    Good news on baby (almost toddler) Miles. The drooling stage is so sweet – wow two teeth! Remember: this too shall pass. I’m waiting for the crawling and coasting stage.

    I thought of another question for prospective applicants.

    – Does the school offer transfer credit for college courses taken at community college or other four year institution? If so, is there a limit as to number of credits allowed to be transferred? One school I know of allowed unlimited AP scores but only allowed a small number of college courses to be transferred. If they don’t allow transfer credit in certain areas is there a means by which you can demonstrate mastery so that you can take a higher level course in that field.

    – How many AP’s are allowed and which ones?

  9. c21 says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I wasn’t able tell you how much I appreciate your advice when you came by my school to talk about MIT, but I wanted to thank you about a million times for the helpful tips on your blog and your very witty, (semi-technology challenged), around-the-country MIT info session! I think two extremely important questions were neglected in the list…perhaps while visiting, a student may want to ask:

    1) What are the students like and what do they do in their free time?

    2) Is the food good? If not, is there a place to get good food nearby?

    Anyways, thanks again!

  10. Kelly says:

    How important is a campus visit? I’d like to visit all the colleges I’m applying to, but most are out of state and my family doesn’t really have the money/time. Is it something I should make a huge effort to do?

  11. Filiz says:

    Very good points, and pretty conclusive in my opinion. I especially agree with not letting the cost of a school deter you because there are many options out there to be able to afford it.

  12. Sorry So long with responses… spent time in Arizona dodging rattlesnakes and the heat!

    Isaiah said:
    When I started looking for and applying to colleges, I was originally drawn towards the colleges that cost less money. However, when the financial aid awards came in, many of the colleges that I thought would be really expensive were some of the cheapest, and the ones that originally seemed less expensive gave lousy financial aid deals and ended up more expensive. Also, when considering colleges, ask if their financial aid departments guarantee to meet all demonstrated need. I know MIT and many other colleges do, but some don’t.

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    You got it… it is hard to know the Fin Aid Bottom-line without knowing the bottom-line. Financial Aid can be counter-intuitive: the schools with the highest price tags may actually be the schools in the end that actually cost the least!

    Eric said:
    For everyone that is visiting MIT, I highly recommend that you check out the differences between East Campus and West Campus. Spend some time in East Campus because I doubt you will find anywhere else quite like it.

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    There is a very nice contrast between MIT’s East and West Campus. This is not just true of MIT’s Campus. At Cornell for example, there is a huge difference between North Campus, West Campus and Off Campus/College town. Which is best? Only you can answer that question. Visit each section and see where you feel most at home.

    Lupine said:
    1. Is housing guaranteed all four years? It’s not something that you can assume is true at all places.
    2. How easy is it to change majors once enrolled? Some universities are divided into separate colleges and changing majors down the road may not be as simple as you think.
    3. How many students get to do research?

    4. The “personality” of the school. You see this in the little details that are everywhere. For instance, when every course of study goes by a number, and even the bathrooms are given numbers (i.e. 7-107), you know you’re at a school that celebrates math

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    YEs! yeS! yES! Personality is everything. Picking a school is a lot like dating…
    Yes, you want a school to sweep you off your feet, but you also care about the personality. When dating you move cautiously, ever on the lookout for incompatibility. Do the same with the campus visit. If you don’t use the visit to get to know the personality of the school, you may find some pretty campus that does not hold your interest very well.

    The major thing is a bit deal. Be weary of a place that forces you to know up front exactly what you want to study. Because we know that you are teenagers with many, many interests, we only admit to the Institute, not to a School or a Major.

    Another Mom:
    Spoke to AP’s and their rules.

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    With AP’s the admissions staff at MIT really cares that you are taking the tough courses and working to potential. We typically become interested with your scores after you have been admitted and will come from your advisor as he or she helps you with course selection. So really there is more than one story to tell about AP’s/IB’s/College credits. Every school puts a different twist on this topic.

    c21 said:
    1) What are the students like and what do they do in their free time?
    2) Is the food good? If not, is there a place to get good food nearby?

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    Thanks for putting me on blast about my presentation. Yeah I had problems with the technology. Remember: MIT invents the technology, but we don’t always use it!)

    Make sure that you enjoy the sludge that schools serves as food. Also, make sure you can get a salad from time to time or freshman 15 could become your reality….

    Kelly asked:
    How important is a campus visit? I’d like to visit all the colleges I’m applying to, but most are out of state and my family doesn’t really have the money/time. Is it something I should make a huge effort to do?

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    Great question. I don’t know that you necessarily need to visit before you apply. You definately need to visit before you commit to a school. It’s all about the research. In lieu of visits, make sure that you visit websites/blogs, speak to alumni or current students and beat the admissions staff into submission with all of your questions. The bottom line: Make sure that your questions get answers and that you fell good about school in question. Finally, call and see if the school that you are interested in has a hosting program and financial aid for said program (both fall and spring).

    Filiz said:
    Very good points, and pretty conclusive in my opinion. I especially agree with not letting the cost of a school deter you because there are many options out there to be able to afford it.

    Nance Nance Revolution:
    You Damn Skippy!

  13. Sam Jackson says:

    Hey, it’s been… many many weeks now, but I haven’t forgotten, despite the wall of silence I seem to have run into: was there still something that you wanted to talk to me about? I e-mailed all my contact information before, but I can resend it if you need.

  14. Christina says:

    Hey Bryan!!

    Looks like I’m going to see you on October 18 in Long Beach! I’ve told my parents all about your interesting stories and helpful (and sometimes hiliarious!) tips. We can’t wait to see you!!

    MITES 06 Power!!!

  15. Daniel says:

    Hi,

    I’m in the process of working on my application, and I was wondering whether it would be necessarily better were I to come up to Cambridge for my interview(and have an opportunity to visit MIT again!) than to schedule it with my regional interviewer.

  16. Christina,

    I look forward to seeing in the LBC!

  17. Daniel,

    You are welcome to come visit MIT again, but I suggest that you schedule your EC interview in your home region.

  18. Hi

    My name is Kamal, and this my first time ever visiting this great “community in action.” So I’m a little nervous. I just had one question. I was looking at the requirements for MIT, and I read that physics was strongly recommended. In my junior year I had the chance to take the class but instead I took AP Chemistry. However in my senior year I am taking AP Physics B. Would not taking physics in my junior year serve as a detriment to being admitted?

    Thank You

    PS: The student-MIT faculty chemistry on this page is great and I hope that I soon become apart of it.
    –I hope that I become apart of the institution too smile

  19. AnotherMom says:

    Kelly,

    To add to what Nance Nance Revolution said if I might with regard to visiting schools to which you may apply. A lot of people visit all the schools in advance. This was not possible in our family’s situation for myriad reasons. During interviews, the applicant wove into the conversation some of the reasons why a visit had not been possible to the campus. However, as Nance mentioned, I did make certain that my applicant emailed admissions regularly with any and all questions, searched the websites for names of people who chaired certain departments of interest, contacted those people to answer more detailed questions, and contacted certain clubs on the campus. The applicant’s inability to visit every school of interest did not have an adverse impact on acceptance . The applicant did visit during the campus preview weekends to help make the final decision. As Nance mentioned, you still have to do the research. My applicant just did a little more research and it was time well spent.
    You’re fortunate to be applying at a time when most schools have detailed websites. Such was not the case when I attended college decades ago. grin

    Wishing all of you all the best with the application process.

  20. Reyes Flete says:

    Mr. Nance,

    Let’s say I were to apply early action, and I got deffered to regular admission, will SAT scores I send after the early action deadline be looked at for the during this time?

    Thanks a bunch,
    Reyes