As you make your way through the college search process, think of the school you will ultimately choose as your home away from home — a place that will be comfortable for you.
Comfortable in the sense that your basic needs are taken care of, and as a place where you will feel confident enough to discover new knowledge about yourself and engage with the community around you.
You should seek an environment that will enable you to accomplish your goals, both short-and long-term.
More than printed materials, websites, virtual tours and college fairs, college visits allow you to get a true feel for the campus environment and the community at large. While you initially may think that — based on promotional literature, a school’s reputation, or someone else’s experience — a certain college is the right “fit” for you, a visit might convince you otherwise.
An in-person visit allows you to evaluate a college firsthand: the academics, the living arrangements, the physical campus, and the extracurricular activities. And it provides the opportunity to interact directly with students, admissions staff and possibly even faculty members.
An overnight stay, if possible, is even better. It is an excellent way to learn even more about the student culture. You will be hosted by a current student and attend a class, and possibly an event on campus. You will see what life is like in the dorms, sample the food and spend time with other students.
Do you want to know about Jewish life on campus? If there is a Hillel chapter at the school or nearby, you can connect with staff and students and learn more about ongoing activities and events, social action opportunities and more. Perhaps you can even schedule your visit to coincide with Shabbat or a Jewish holiday. Take this opportunity to learn how you can become involved in a way that is most meaningful to you.
When it comes to deciding on the college that best meets your needs, there are multiple factors to consider. For instance, perhaps you think you want to attend a large school. But what does that mean? Large in terms of the number of students? Or large in terms of the size of the campus? It’s hard to get a feeling for the size without actually setting foot on campus and walking around.
Do you want to be in the middle of a city? You have options. Perhaps you enjoy the fast pace and urban environment, but find New York City too overwhelming. On the other hand, schools like the University of Denver and American University are situated in, but somewhat removed from, the hustle and bustle of the city; others, such as George Washington University and NYU, are more integrated into the urban environment. Which do you think will be more to your liking? A campus visit will help you figure that out.
As for suburban or rural schools, again, there are many factors to consider, including climate, distance to the nearest town or big city, housing options, etc.
Even if you begin your visits not knowing exactly what you’re looking for, your time on campus can help you narrow down your criteria.
Did you know that college visits may be helpful when it comes to writing application essays? Many schools require applicants to respond to a prompt asking what they can contribute to the college community and/or how they can benefit from attending. Once you become familiar with a college, it may be easier to answer such questions — maybe something you’ve seen or someone you have met will motivate you to write an inspiring essay.
Bottom line: Whether you are just beginning to put your college list together, working to narrow down your list, or making your final decision about where to attend, you’ll find that college visits are an important part of the college search process.
Janice Caine is the CEO and founder of Custom College Vi its, based in Brentwood. For more information, visit www.customcollegevisits.com.