College Visit Persuasion 101

Visiting colleges is crucial to making a good decision for your next four years (or less) of schooling. I strongly strongly strongly strongly encourage doing it if you haven’t already (and perhaps going again even if you have). Getting a feel for the people (administration, current & prospective students, profs etc alike), receiving information about programs and people, seeing the campus, understanding the facilities and resources, and most importantly, being able to talk to real live people in real live person, is so ridiculously important. Just like you wouldn’t buy and move into a house without actually visiting it, you shouldn’t haphazardly choose where your tuition goes and move into a college without visiting, either. (I often think about how many ultimate discs or pianos or cars I could buy with the money that’s going into my college tuition and sigh. Repeatedly.)

I highly recommend attending schools during their admit program/days/whatever fancy name they use (like Harvard’s is Visitas and MIT’s is CPW and Rice’s is Owl Days but you know, it’s fine) because that’s when you’ll meet the highest concentration of other admitted students (basically, you can scope out your potential classmates and see what sort of other students were admitted and if you think you’d jive with them) and that’s also when the school will be pumping out its highest concentration of resources for prospective students (aka more free goodies! but more seriously, that’s going to be the best time to find upperclassmen to answer your questions honestly because they volunteer to do it, and other important people like professors/admissions counselors/program directors/finaid, etc.)

Also! If you can stay overnight, do so. That’s the best time to actually see whether campus is safe at night, whether paths are brightly lit, if there are noise problems, what the dorms are like (aka are they partying hard or studying quietly heh), etc.

I’ve noticed the ability to visit colleges depends mainly on 3 things: your academic availability, your monetary means, and your parents’ opinion. I’ll advise you guys on how to work out the best circumstances for the first two and drop some tips for convincing the parentals!


Academic availability–this can be difficult, because there might be a school policy on how many days you can take off for college visits, or whether you can miss/reschedule tests/presentations, etc. Time to sharpen your persuasion skills if so!

  1. Start planning your visits early. As soon as you possibly think there could be a day you’re missing class, talk to your teachers to see what material they’ll be going over that day. If you have a test, talk to them to see if you can reschedule the test earlier, or double weight the final if you can’t miss tests (be creative).
  2. Open up the line of communication as early as possible between you and teachers/admin who may get in your way–this shows you care about your learning and the class (even if you might not bc senioritis) and will make them more willing to help/accommodate you.
  3. Remember that at the end of the day you’re deciding your future and you should have the information to figure out where you want to go. Make good arguments to people who are preventing you from achieving that.

Monetary means & things of that nature

  1. Some schools have travel vouchers or reimbursements if you come during their visit days (that was the case for at least one or two of my schools I visited.) Look/ask around (college counselor, admissions, website, financial aid, etc.), ask upperclassmen who visited before, etc.
  2. Also be alert for scholarships and things. Usually they’re already given out but it so happened that one of my admitted schools had a full-ride tuition scholarship that was only available for application once you had been admitted (and not before!)
  3. Visiting colleges is also the best way you can leverage financial aid into giving you more money (if they’re going to budge, heh) and talk about your options (esp if you’re getting more money from a comparable/better school, have a weird financial situation where someone recently lost a job/massive change in income, etc.). It’s incredibly hard to do that sort of negotiating over the phone. They can also more easily tell and show you what sorts of extra forms to fill out if you need to.
  4. I’d have a big bullet point on flights but I don’t know a massive amount about them except I’ve heard to use an incognito browser window(?) when you’re searching. Use one of those flight comparison websites. Use rewards cards. Also make sure wherever airport you’re landing at is not like 1.5 hours away from the school bc that would suck.

Parentals & yes, more persuasion skills! Some of these are a bit of a restate from earlier points, but:

  1. Make a point that you need to experience the environment (that’s what we would call the feeling/vibe) of the school and that for all the pamphlets, newsletters, emails, websites and virtual tours you can find, they’re merely pixels and inked words--it’s important for you to go and experience the stuff in real life. Is the campus location cold? Rainy? Humid? Windy? In the middle of nowhere? Ugly on the eye? Impossible to get from one class to another? Spread out so far you need a bus to get from one place to another? Perhaps your department is on the other side of campus from the dorms…
    • As a personal digression, I cannot explain how much stepping onto a campus and “feeling” the environment helped me decide schools.
      • Columbia felt too urban for me–one step outside the gates and I was steamrollered by the bustle of NYC. Inside the gates, I felt uncomfortable.
      • After walking around UT Austin for a few hours, on the other hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing was wrong with the school persay, but it didn’t feel right either.
    • At any rate, that gut feeling inside–if you can’t really see yourself at a school after visiting it–you should trust it.
  2. Talking to actual people, in person. Emails can be ignored. Phone calls can be ignored. Letters can be ignored.  But you know what can’t be ignored? A real physical person. College visits are the time to talk to admissions counselors, real students (and see their actual reactions to things and not just ‘my school is great I do 35 things and have I told you about blah blah blah?’) and real professors.
    • Also, seeing people’s body language is so important. Words on a paper can be written insincerely, as can blog posts (I promise mine are not insincere pls) and chat messages. Some students can and will push to sell themselves as happy and content at their school, but oftentimes will make side comments or exhibit body language that indicate otherwise. When you ask them one-on-one, earnestly–more often than not they will spill what it is that they don’t like about the school or problems they have with the school. That’s generally the best time you find out the not so great things. (This is how I found out some less good things about some schools while I was visiting. I speak from experience that when prospective students or parents earnestly ask me things when I’m volunteering for admissions, I’ll answer equally candidly, even if it might not be what I know admissions would want. I’d rather people who are seeking answers honestly get the right information to make their decisions than the canned, ‘correct’ response.)
    • As a final aside, you sort of get a sense of the types of people who are there and if they’re /your/ people. I’ve felt everything from mediocrity and averageness to sheer nerdiness to elitism. (I ended up attending my school because everyone was down-to-earth and real. A year later, I can confirm it’s not an act, heh.)
  3. Seeing classrooms, workspaces, dorms, buildings, etc. Pictures are so deceiving especially with admission material (ngl I’m pretty sure they photoshop/doctor photos soooo much.). Just come see it for yourself. Sometimes there’s a racket of construction outside you don’t know about (which weren’t there when they were taking pictures~!), or perhaps the buildings don’t feel very special and you hate ugly architecture. Maybe the dorms are really sad and small. (These are all things I thought to myself while visiting campuses.).
  4. Point out that you wouldn’t want to go to a college you hate and waste their money. Money is oftentimes a sensitive subject but I think that parents care about the well-being and happiness of their kids deep down, even if they don’t express it. Do speak up if you hate somewhere that they’re really pushing you to go.

Finally a personal story:

College visits have a big personal meaning to me. At the last college I visited at the end of April, I ran into an admissions counselor at an outside patio. At this point, I was sort of pulling my hair out over where to go, having several places to choose from, each as good as the next in terms of academics, but all with very different environments and impressions on me.

For 20-30 minutes, I poured out my stress to him as he listened, telling him about the schools I had gotten into, the joy I had over being accepted, the things I’d experienced, what I valued in those schools, what I was torn over, what their selling points and cons were, and just…everything that I had thought about over the hectic month.

Afterwards, I held my breath. I expected him to sell me the school; during our conversation he had told me his own personal story of acceptance: he had applied into this school and one other, then chose it because it was close to home and knew it was good. He had liked attending the school a lot.

Rather than any of that, he simply asked me a question:

“All of that aside, where do you want to go? You don’t have to tell me the answer.”

Before he had even gotten the second sentence out, I blurted out a name. There wasn’t any hesitation.

He laughed. “I think you already know the choice you should make, then,” he’d said with a smile.

This conversation was really important and profound for me. An admissions officer who was refreshingly and candidly honest with me (and at that point, I’d talked to so many who’d been obnoxiously vague and unhelpful that I was sick and tired of them and ready to write them all off even though they were /just doing their job/) honestly blew my mind. To talk to someone who was truly supposed to be trying to recruit me but instead told me I should go where I knew I should was a significant push in the right direction for me.

Anyway. That’s a big personal reason why I find visiting schools such a big deal. Maybe you too will find someone who will speak to you and clear up the waters.

tldr: go visit colleges its good for your decision making

 

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