“March Madness” is heating up in more ways than one. There is the NCAA basketball tournament which just named the college teams that have made it to the “big dance.” But there is also the madness of high school juniors who are beginning their search to find the perfect college match. Both events can end in very big celebrations. One part of the college selection process is setting up campus visits. When prepared for properly, these can provide a wealth of information students and parents can use to help decide which colleges advance to the “Sweet 16” and ultimately the “Final Four” of college applications in the fall.
The purpose of the trip is to try to understand whether this will be a good fit for the next four years, and also to meet with various representatives of the institution. Last week, we covered the questions to ask the financial aid office on campus visits. This included gathering input on how to apply for financial aid, complete the FAFSA, and search for scholarships that might help the family be able to pay for each individual college. Another important stop on the campus visit is the admissions office. Here are some key questions you will need to ask the admissions office that will help you decide whether it makes sense for you to apply to this college:
• What benefits can this college offer me? Although attending college provides many benefits in terms of expanding your horizons, introducing you to new people, and helping you grow up, the primary purpose is to provide an education that will help you achieve your life goals beyond college. So you need to get serious and ask detailed questions about how each specific college prepares its graduates for the next life phase. Ask about how many students graduate and how many do that in four years, get a list of professors and classes in your field of study to see if they interest you, ask about internship and job placement assistance, and find out how many students go on to jobs in their major and how much they earn. This is a two way street – they want to learn about you and you want to learn about them before deciding if this is the right match.
• What are your application deadlines? Make sure you completely understand the differences between admissions and financial aid deadlines, and pay particular attention to those that go with the colleges you are most interested in attending. Find out if they offer early decision, early action, regular admissions or rolling admissions so you don’t get left out by missing a deadline.
• What are your admission requirements? Understand exactly what you need to do to apply to this college and your major. Find out which application form they subscribe to, their test requirements and how much they rely on test scores, how many letters of reference are needed, and learn whether you have to submit a portfolio or video as part of your application package. You want to understand what they look for in potential students, and how they evaluate applicants during the admissions decision process. This will help you tremendously in setting up your timetable of activities for when you return home.
• What other information is available? Other questions might elicit answers that give you that one little morsel which indicates that perhaps this is the college for you. Find out whether they have a substantial grant and scholarship program, learn about on-campus and off-campus work opportunities, and ask if there are clubs that focus on your major or if you can start one, because you want to find out what is different about this college or why other students choose to attend it.
Most of all, you are trying to determine whether the campus is comfortable for you, and whether you are the type of student who will thrive here. Collecting solid information now will help you in narrowing your college list, and give you a better idea of what you need to do to stand out on your application. Do it right, and you’ll score a big win!