By Sam Acker
College seems to be the choice topic at the moment. By this time of year, many people have had or overheard conversations about that next step in their lives and the stress that comes with it. Underclassmen are probably just starting to explore their possibilities while seniors are immersed in college applications. As far as visiting prospective universities, there are two approaches students often take. Some apply to colleges without visiting the campus while others visit before applying or creating their final list. In reality though, the choice is simple. There is more value in visiting colleges and getting a sense of the environment before applying. This choice prevents wasted time and gives students a better idea of which schools they should be applying to in the first place.
Simply scanning various school websites, it is impossible to differentiate between what could be a great home for the prospective student versus a huge mistake. Most colleges’ websites look exciting and appealing and all schools have great programs. Seeing facts and impressive information on paper or a computer screen isn’t enough. How can anyone truly understand what it would be like to live on those campuses for four years without actually visiting them?
Visiting colleges before the application process helps students narrow down their college lists and ensures that they have lists of places they can physically see themselves attending. Although many colleges use Common Application, a centralized website for background information and essays, they normally include supplemental questions and essays that can quickly stack up. It is a waste of precious time to fill out and write applications for schools that a student may dislike. Instead, students can visit as many schools as possible beforehand to make sure that they apply to the appropriate college.
Although traveling to different areas of the country may seem daunting, starting the process before applying has its benefits. The visits can begin many years in advance, perhaps with an older sibling, and can spread out over a long period of time. This prevents a trip being thrown together at the last minute to see a school that you have just been admitted to. Instead, you can combine college visits with family vacations and experience multiple schools in one area.
Others would argue that these visits are a waste of money but in the long run it may be less expensive. Each school that you apply to charges an application fee, which along with transcript and test score fees can go through the roof if a college list is lengthy. Also, buying airline tickets to visit schools to which one has been admitted will cost far more due to the short notice the trip.
By blindly applying to colleges based on surface information, there is a risk of having a list of schools that don’t accurately portray one’s actual preferences. Visiting before applying prevents that mistake and gives one a deeper understanding of the vibe and atmosphere of each individual college.
A common fear is that one may fall in love with the school that one visits and then get rejected. While it is true that rejection can be harsh and even heartbreaking, it is worth the risk. As long as students keep in mind that it might not necessarily be the school that they attend, admiring a college that one visits can reap more benefits in the long run. Imagine the emotions that one feels when they see an acceptance letter to the school that they love. Those feelings far outweigh the rejections that many will face.
In reality, no one can truly know if they are going to feel comfortable at a college until they start in the fall, but beginning a relationship with the campus early on
will help drive decisions when the time comes.Writing four supplemental essays for a school one has never seen is unnecessary. Students are busy enough as it is, and they can spend their time on other activities.