For high school students and families eager to visit college campuses we sat down with Penn’s On-Campus Programs staff, Lara Grieco, Valerie Marchand Welsh, Siobhan O’Neill and Liz Washo, to learn how to make the most of a college visit, while simultaneously navigating high visitor volume and high energy on campus. The result? Our top twelve tips for making the most of your campus visit. A few of our pointers overlap so choose your favorites tips and make sure to remember them when you begin your road – or plane – trip. Read the first six tips today and come back next week for Part II.
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Research prior to each visit is crucial. First, investigate the basics. “Find out ahead of time where the admissions office is located. Also find out if there is free parking or where the parking facilities are located. Know where you are going,” says Siobhan O’Neill. You should also have a sense of what each university offers, and what draws you to it. “People who have the best experiences really put the time and effort in ahead of time and [these] people walk away happy. You shouldn’t rely solely on the admissions office to create the visit,” adds Liz Washo. Taking the time to browse the website of each university before your visit is a must.
2. CREATE A TRAVEL ITINERARY
Before setting out, decide when you will visit each University on your list. Our office encourages students to schedule one campus visit per day. The extra time on campus allows for unstructured experiences, like talking to current students or taking a self-guided walking tour, which can make your visit more memorable. “It’s important to spend time outside of official opportunities,” Valerie Marchand Welsh notes. Additionally, scheduling only one visit per day ensures that families stay present-focused and eliminates the anxiety associated with a tight schedule. Ultimately, when it’s time to put your application together, spending extra time – and quality time – on campus will help you better envision your fit. Ok, some campuses are close enough to visit two in one day, but the point is to not overschedule yourself.
3. SET A PURPOSE
Note what is important for you to experience while on campus. On your first visit, you might want to set aside time for the information session and student-led tour. If you are visiting a second time, you might have other opportunities in mind. Personal preferences can also inform purpose. Siobhan says, “For different people, this can be different things. For athletes, you might want to contact a coach while others might look for dance, music or art space [while on campus].” If you are traveling with your family, you might want to set aside time to independently explore academic departments and student hubs of personal interest.
4. BRING AN OPEN MIND
Your information session might be empty, or full; outside it might be warm or raining; you might visit during finals or perhaps during a spring festival. Know that each circumstance presents a new opportunity. If you find yourself among many other prospective students, take time to listen to their questions in the information session as it might answer your own questions about the college process. Conversely, if fewer families are visiting, you have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with admissions staff and tour guides. On rainy days, when you might not see many students outdoors, Lara Grieco encourages visitors to explore indoor spaces. For example, at Penn, she hopes that prospective students take this time to enjoy on-campus cafes and bookstores, view indoor athletic spaces and even visit campus and city museums. Also note the academic calendar before your visit. You might step into the student union if you visit during finals, which, Lara notes will be “alive with students bustling and cramming.” If you visit during a spring festival or on alumni weekend, spend time on the lawn and take in the energy on campus. Overall, be flexible and patient, stay hydrated in the warm weather and let Admissions staff know if they can assist in any way.
5. ARRIVE EARLY TO READ THE PAPER (and learn about campus)
Arrive on time to read through campus publications and learn about timely university events and issues. (You will also be able to find university publications online and might want to view them prior to your campus visit.) Reading is not the only perk of arriving early. Early arrival gives you a head start on learning about the university. “At Penn, if you get here early enough you can chat with student ambassadors. This can be an opportunity to get that one-on-one time with current students,” Liz Washo notes. Liz also feels that being timely sets a positive tone for the day. She says “Students get frustrated when they’re late and that adds to how they feel about the day.”
6. INVESTIGATE YOUR ACADEMIC FIT
To learn more about the academic expectations and opportunities at each institution, you may choose to attend program specific information sessions or visit academic departments. Penn, for example, offers additional information sessions for our four undergraduate schools, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing and the Wharton School. As a note, if you hope to speak with a professor or academic advisor, our staff encourages you to contact the academic department by email prior to your visit.
Edited by Amy Smith