You have studied and been tested for four long years now, and in the last year spent oodles of time taking SATs/ACTs, Subject and AP tests, writing admissions essays and completing multiple college applications. Undoubtedly, you have also read about colleges, browsed college websites and spoken with college-knowledgeable people. You've probably visited a college or two.
In the next couple of weeks, you will have heard from all the colleges to which you applied and either been accepted, wait-listed or denied. What's left to do now is decide on the one college you want to attend, and by May 1, accept their admission invitation. In a previous HuffPost blog, I describe exactly what to do to make that final college choice. In another blog, I go through the steps of getting off a waitlist.
Before you act on those last two items, though, I urge you to take advantage of any preadmit programs (aka, admitted student days, admit weekend) that colleges offer you and other accepted students.
What is a preadmit Event?
Many colleges offer a program in which newly admitted students are invited to spend a couple of days on campus touring college facilities, staying in a dorm (and eating dorm food), attending lectures and talking with professors, and participating in special activities set up just for newly admitted students.
Why Should You Go?
Even if you have visited a college before, it's a good idea to take advantage of these programs because there is a BIG difference between seeing a college as an applicant versus seeing it as an accepted student. As an accepted student, you are now in the driver's seat; you can look at a college much more critically and realistically.
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best-selling book, Blink, says that the human subconscious interprets whatever we present it (in this case, a college campus) and uses what we see and hear to make observations and sometimes decisions. Gladwell urges people to trust their instincts and pay attention to gut feelings. The implication of Gladwell's words regarding visiting colleges is "pay close attention to how it feels to you." For example, from the moment you enter a campus do you feel good -- even excited -- about what you see? On the other hand, do negative thoughts come to mind, as in "Aye, yai, yai; I'm not feeling good about this place." "I'm not sure I fit here." "I don't like this school as much as __________________."
I will never forget the phone call I received from my daughter when she attended the preadmit days of her soon-to-be chosen college. She left home with acceptances to five very competitive schools in her pocket. After walking around the campus once she arrived, she immediately called me, and said in a swoon, "Oh Mom. I love the trees; I love the buildings; I love the lake and the hills in the background. I love everything about this campus! I just KNOW I want to go to school here." Blink.
How to Approach Other Admitted Students
While you're on campus, also gather as much information as you can. The best way of doing that is to take advantage of every single activity and experience offered you. Even if you're a little (or a lot) uncomfortable in new situations and new people, go! Do it! Start off by introducing yourself to whomever is around you. You know, "Hi! My name is ___________ and I'm from ______________ High School in _______________."
Have a few other things to say, including: "So why did you decide to apply to _____________?" "How do you like it so far?" "What other schools are you considering?" "What are you looking forward to in college?" "Are you into any sports?" Eventually, you might want to ask the student if they think they will be saying yes to this school. What usually happens is that you will either hit it off or you won't. If you do, then ask the student if he or she would like to walk to the next event. If you don't, move on and start a conversation with another student.
Questions to Ask Current Students
Sometime, somewhere you will meet current students. They are great resources, when it comes to "getting" what a college is all about. Strike up a conversation by asking some of these questions:
- What do you like best (or least) about this college?
- How is the social life? What do students do during the week and on the weekends?
- What are the dorms like? Which are the best ones?
- What are students like? Competitive? Cooperative? Social? Techy? Outdoorsy? Intellectual? Etc.
- Why did you decide to attend this college? If you could do it all over again, would you choose this college? Why? Why not?
Questions to Ask Professors or College Administrators
Professors and college administrators such as admissions and/or student affairs people are other good resources. Ask them:
- Do you like being a professor (admissions rep, dean, etc.) at this college? Why did you decide to teach (work) here?
- How are academic advisors assigned to students?
- What is the best way for a new student like me to take advantage of all that this school offers?
- What kind of relationships do you have with undergraduate students? Do you ever mentor freshmen?
- What is available at this school in terms of internships, undergraduate research (or whatever you're interested in)?
As you walk around campus (or right before you go to sleep), jot down what your impressions are of the college, students, buildings and activities. Use single words or small phrases, such as "Liked the student center." "The work-out rooms are awesome -- brand new." Or maybe, "Students look too nerdy." "Love it!" "Not good vibes." Even if you don't usually keep a journal, it's a good thing to do this because if you don't write your impressions down, you probably won't remember a lot. Without these details, it will be more difficult to compare impressions across different campuses.
Questions to Ask Yourself about the Adjacent Community near the Campus or Town/City
Since you won't just be living in a college environment, but also its nearby community, be sure to check it out.
- Do I feel comfortable here?
- Do I feel safe?
- As I look at the people walking the streets, do I like what I see?
- Can I see myself going to the coffee shops and cafes; shopping for clothes and other things?
- Are there good places to walk or run?
Special Considerations for Underserved (Under-resourced) Students
Many underserved students don't even consider taking advantage of preadmit events because they don't think they will be able to afford them. Wait a second before you jump to that conclusion. Know that some colleges offer what is called "fly-in" programs, i.e., financial assistance for students with limited family financial resources to take part in admit programs (and/or independent visits). If you are in that situation, call or email the college admissions office and ask if they offer such a program. And if they say yes, ask what and how you can get involved. Also, go to your high school college counselor to see if your school (or local community group) offers financial assistance for students to visit colleges.
Whether underserved or not, you might also find out if the colleges you are considering offer admit events in your own hometown. College alumni groups often put on gatherings of this kind and bring in young alums or current students for admittees to meet.
The goal of taking advantage of admit programs is to help you find and decide on the very best college for you. If you are unable to see a school through its organized preadmit program, look into visiting it on your own. Believe me; either way, this is not a waste of your family's time or money.
Best of luck!