“Enjoy it. It goes by fast.”
The perennial anthem of seasoned parents everywhere greeted us daily as first-timers when our son was born. Next week he graduates from kindergarten, and I know there are parents with graduating high school students who feel like they just left kindergarten.
While we’ve got a good decade before we embark on college tours, numerous families will be hitting the road this summer to explore the possibilities of secondary and higher education near and far.
The campus visit is an opportunity to experience its culture, explore new communities and compare the differences of your top choices that might appear the same in a brochure. And more importantly, it shows your interest to the admissions office.
The key to having an informative and successful visit relies on your preparedness and strategy.
I spoke with educational professionals about their advice for students set on the collegiate path. Here is their crash course in the etiquette of the campus visit.
Hafeez Lakhani, of Santa Fe and New York, is founder and president of Lakhani Coaching, an international academic coaching firm that works one-on-one with students and families on selective admissions, standardized testing, academic skills and character growth. Lakhani strongly emphasizes being prepared.
“You should reserve campus tours and on-campus interviews at least six weeks in advance of your campus visit,” Lakhani says. “Where on-campus interviews are not offered or no slots are available, drop by the admissions office anyway and see if any admissions officers are available for a quick chat.”
While the goal is for you to gain as much information as possible, the school is also gathering information about its prospective applicants. All communication and registration is recorded, building a digital profile of your demonstrated interest.
“When attending information sessions and campus tours, be sure to sign up officially so that there is some record that the student participated,” advises Lakhani. This also includes taking follow-up surveys about your visit.
Jay LaShombe, senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Vermont, my alma mater, makes note of all correspondence from a potential applicant, be it an email, telephone call or thank-you note.
“There’s still value in the visit,” LaShombe says. But he recognizes that not all students can make the journey. “How students are interacting with our campus is virtual. Any [online] student interaction is viewed as a visit.”
And online visits get you on the school’s radar. In an effort to attract students to its beautiful New England campus, UVM curates the No. 1-rated Instagram page of Division 1 schools.
“We’re speaking to students in their language,” LaShombe says.
For those doing on-site visits follow these tips for the tour:
• Register online for tours, info sessions and interviews well in advance.
• Let the college know if you need to cancel, thus opening a slot for another student or family to visit.
• Dress appropriately. “Don’t hide your uniqueness,” says Lakhani, but be presentable. And comfortable. Campus tours often last one or two hours, and involve walking long distances. Be sure to check the weather in advance, too.
• Be prompt. Allow time to park and walk across campus to find the meeting point.
• Give a strong first impression with an introduction that includes a smile, eye contact and handshake.
• Prepare your questions in advance. This is your opportunity to glean as much as possible. LaShombe recommends families have a strategy when visiting, asking themselves, “What information do we need to leave the campus with?”
• Don’t monopolize the conversation. The other students in the group have as many questions as you do. Save lingering questions for after the tour or for an appointment. Avoid continually holding side conversations with your parents or other students.
• Avoid questions that have to do with drugs, alcohol, partying or other topics you wouldn’t discuss with professional staff. Admissions ambassadors are a professional representative of the college and can’t answer many of these types of questions.
• Thank your tour guide. They are often students volunteering their time out of a genuine love for their school.
• Sit in on a class or two. You’ll be spending the majority of your time here, so get a feel for professors, class size and content.
• Dine on campus, sit in the quad and visit student centers and local hangouts. This provides an opportunity to interact with the people who make the school unique, presenting the opportunity for candid feedback not offered in a scripted tour. “It’s the stuff outside of class that makes or breaks the university experience,” says LaShombe.
• See a dorm room. While you may be shown one on the tour, engage a student or arrange through a high school alum to show you their room, bathrooms and student lounges to get a real feel for the living quarters.
• Visit all the key facilities such as the library, gymnasium or buildings that house activities and academics that interest you.
• Explore the town around campus to see what the relationship is with the college and what offerings you might enjoy for dining, shopping and recreation.
Speaking one-on-one with a college representative provides you an opportunity to set yourself apart from a sea of qualified applicants who all look good on paper. Whether it’s a few minutes of focused time in the admissions office during your tour or a formal interview on campus or in your region, this is your chance to vocalize your narrative and why you want to attend.
While the interview is just one part of the package, it is an opportunity for your true personality to shine through in the tone of your voice, your mannerisms and self presentation. For students applying to prep or boarding schools, the interview carries much more weight.
Map out your college road trip and register for those tours and interviews. It’s the map to your future.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-988-2070.
COMING JUNE 2
Part 2 of this column will expand on topics for questions, interview prep and content, overnight visits and recruitment.