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1. Starting visits too late in the college search process. There are many reasons to start going on college visits as early as the summer before junior year. You do not want to rush the visits to fit them into a smaller window of time, and students will feel less anxiety about the visits if they take place before the stresses of the college application process are in full force.
2. Squeezing too many colleges into a few short days. Again, you do not want the visits to be rushed; students should have time to explore the campuses and to ask questions of admissions counselors and tour guides. Additionally, if the visits come too close together, students' impressions of the universities might blur, rendering the visits less helpful than they otherwise would be.
3. Only visiting “reach” schools. Many students dream of attending the Ivy League and other top-ranked colleges and universities, but it is important that college visits not focus solely on these reach schools. All students should try to visit as many target and safety schools as they do reach schools, so that they can develop an interest in and excitement for schools at all levels.
4. Not doing enough research before visits. Before visiting a college, students should read its website and descriptions of the college in guidebooks so that they have an impression of what to expect and so that they know the questions they want to ask when arriving on campus. The questions that will be most helpful to students tend to be specific and focused on information not easily found on a website: "What is the English department like?" or "How hard is it to double major?"
5. Visiting when a college is on break. Sometimes this may be unavoidable because of your own schedule, but when possible, it is best to visit campuses when classes are in session, so that students get a more accurate impression of a typical day there. In addition, if the college is smaller, there will not be enough of its students on campus to give students who visit during a break a strong sense of the college.
6. Doing just the standard tour. Much of what campus tour guides will tell you is rehearsed and focused on a college's most brochure-ready aspects. Of course, you can and should ask questions of the guides in order to receive more detailed and nuanced perspectives of the university, but you also ought to do some wandering on your own—to see the parts of campus not covered by the tour and to get out of the tourist mindset that can arise from taking a group tour of a campus. Additionally, if students can fit an overnight stay into their visits (at the colleges that offer them), these stays can offer even more immersive experiences.
7. Not speaking with current students, faculty, and staff. Visiting students should take the opportunity, when it is available, to speak with current students in order to find out more about the college from a firsthand, lived perspective. Additionally, students may be able to schedule a quick chat with a faculty member in their departments of interest, and if a student is an athlete or a performer, he or she may also want to try to have a conversation with the relevant coach/band leader/theatre director.
8. Only staying on campus. College students typically spend some time off campus during the course of their undergraduate career. It is important, therefore, to get a sense of what the college's surroundings have to offer. Questions to consider: Is it a safe area? What is there to do nearby? Do you need a car to reach stores and restaurants? Where are the nearest train/bus stations and airports? What is the closest big city and how easy is it to get there?
9. Not taking notes. Especially if students visit multiple colleges back to back, it can be easy for them to forget what they liked and didn't like about a particular college. To avoid that confusion, students should take detailed notes immediately after each visit, so that their impressions are as fresh as possible and they have an easy way to make comparisons when they get home.
10. Forgetting that outside factors can affect students' impressions of a college. Hunger, emotions related to other issues, a fight with mom or dad, bad weather: any of these external concerns can have a negative impact on a student's mood, and thus on his or her perceptions of the university he or she is visiting that day. If the university is close to home, it may be worthwhile to come back another day; if it is instead farther away, then students may want to consider getting a snack or doing something fun (a museum visit or a movie) before taking the tour, schedule permitting.
If these mistakes are avoided, then visits should provide students with a much clearer picture of the colleges on their lists and how they would feel about spending the next four years at each of these universities. Good luck with your visits!
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