Student to Student
The college process is a long one filled with stress, crucial decisions, essay writing, and figuring out how to pay upward of $40,000a year. One of the first and most important steps is figuring out what colleges interest those to which you should apply. The easiest and most effective way to figure out what colleges are worth the $60 application fee is to visit, take a tour, and talk to someone who either attends the school or plays a part in the admission process.
Finding 10 prospective colleges from the thousands that are out there can be fairly painless thanks to the Internet. Choices Planner and other sites that school counselors give students are almost too good to be true. The best ones have you enter information that matters to you, such as size, location, price, and majors and then gives you results. Knowing which area you want to go to also helps cut down the options. Weather and miles away from home are key factors, as is large a or small city. Colorado is the new hotspot for many Park City grads since it offers great skiing and a similar environment yet it is far enough away that Mom can’t stop by for a surprise visit.
Once the list is narrowed down, visiting the colleges is the only way to get a true feel for them. The pictures online are usually deceiving since they are taken during the nicest day of the year when the leaves have just turned colors and the sun is shining. Marybeth, a senior who has been college hunting for years, said, "Schools look different on paper, the feel you get can’t be replicated on a pamphlet or computer screen."
Visiting the schools will give you a feel for whether or not you would fit in and if you would be happy there for at least four years. From my 10 college visits I have memorized important questions and crucial things to look for. I also realized that I learned just as much from those I didn’t like as those I loved. Visiting the school will reveal just how big and spread out the campus is. Often a tour will lead past a class — are the kids talking to each other and engaged in the class, or are they ignoring their neighbors and texting on cell phones? Unlike the brochures, visiting the campus will also show you just how nice the school as a whole is. Schools can be judged by their quad, and this is where you will be spending most of your time, see there are nice benches to sit on and a place to play frisbee. Alexis Summison, a Park City senior, has also seen her fair share of colleges. She said, "Visiting schools like N.Y.U., you learn what you want. I liked how it is in the city yet I also like schools with more of an actual campus." She also added that, "You can for sure tell what schools fit and which don’t, some schools you walk onto and automatically know that this just isn’t right."
So you finally arrive at a school. Then what? First, take a tour, it gets you into the buildings and explains a little more about the school. The tour guide is the perfect person to answer your questions. Some important ones to ask are how safe is the campus, how many students attend, and perhaps every kid’s favorite question, how are the dorms. FYI, all freshman dorms suck, but once you make it past your first year the options become more important. Many schools offer apartment-style, on-campus housing for upper classmen, which is important if the school is in a city and rent is expensive. Also ask about meal plan options, checking out the gym (to undo the effects of that meal plan option) and ask about on-campus activities. These are all important matters that the tour guide may not mention. If you have a particular interest in a certain major ask what opportunities they have for study abroad or internships. Asking whether or not the campus is wireless and if there is a tutoring center may seem pointless or embarrassing, but may make a difference when it comes to your success. The last thing to do before leaving, walk around town and experience the main attractions. If you have a hard time finding anything to see or do, chances are you will feel this same way when attending the school. How far is the school from town and is there transportation is important to look for since many schools don’t allow freshman to have cars.
College visits can be tiring so seeing two in one day can be overwhelming. Check out the school’s Web site to find out when the tours are offered and RSVP. Try to take notes during the tour (there are ways to do it sneakily so you don’t seem nerdy in front of your potential school-mates). Don’t be swayed by pointless information. I promise that every school you look at will tell you how many books they have in the library and that if they don’t have the book you want among their three million, they can get it for you. Try not to listen to everyone’s criticism about the schools you are looking at, everyone has an opinion and after a while some seniors won’t even mention their top schools in fear of a lecture or story about someone’s cousin’s friend’s sister-in-law’s niece who went there and dropped out. Be critical yet open and don’t rule out a school until you have explored all aspects. Visit an array of different schools and take your parents along since they will probably be paying for it, which is a whole different column.
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