Getting to know your college options
For high school students and families considering college, there are two critical things to do: (1) know one’s one interests, needs, and limitations, and (2) become familiar with colleges. Today we’re focusing on how to get to know colleges.
When you look at college websites or read their brochures, they seem pretty similar. Finding what makes them different and knowing whether or not they’re a good match for you is a little more challenging. There are a few things you can do, even these days as travel and in-person events are limited.
College fairs have long been a way for students to be exposed to colleges in a time-efficient way. They are often held at a high school or community building, and they bring admission officers from a variety of colleges to one place for one day. Not only do students get to attend, but family members often do too.
In one fell swoop, you get to meet admission officers and put your name on their radar as someone who is interested in the college. But these days, college fairs aren’t happening in person. But they are happening virtually. While not the same, they still provide a great opportunity to explore possible college options.
Check out these upcoming virtual college fairs:
- NACAC Virtual College Fairs: FREE virtual college fairs held September 13, October 12, October 18, and November 8.
- Six Colleges: Amherst, Bowdoin, Carleton, Pomona, Swarthmore, and Williams are hosting a series of virtual events for students, families, and counselors.
- Jesuit Excellence Tour Program: a series of recruitment events that allow admissions staff at Jesuit colleges and universities to jointly recruit targeted areas across the country.
- Assessing Virtual Tours for Students with Physical Disabilities/Health Conditions: Tips to support students with health conditions and physical disabilities who are taking virtual tours.
If you want to visit a campus in person, be sure to call in advance. First, you want to be sure they are currently allowing visitors to campus. Even outside of pandemic times, calling ahead is a good idea. Talk with an admission representative so they know you’re interested in the college. They can help arrange a schedule for you to sit in on classes of interests, have lunch with students, take a campus tour, and even have an overnight experience. While you’re on campus, you can meet with staff who can help you learn more about campus opportunities, or faculty members who can tell you more about your academic areas of interest.
Talking with people during a campus visit is great, but don’t stop there. Ask your admission representative for names of alumni you can speak with, or the names of other students you can get in touch with. The more people you talk to, the more information you’ll get about the variety of experiences students have and what that means for life after college.
Check out these resources:
- Campus Reel: 15,000 real videos, tours and experiences from 300+ college campuses.
- YouVisit: Virtually visit 600+ colleges for free.
You’re likely going to explore a long list of colleges. It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed very quickly if you aren’t being methodical about how you keep track of all of the information you are looking at. Take notes as you read college materials and websites, talk with admission representatives, current students and others. You should record what you like and don’t like, what other questions you have, and anything that makes the college stand out to you.
There are a lot of really good colleges, and while there are a lot of similarities, there are also differences. The more time you spend getting to know the campuses and the people, the greater chance you will select the right campus for you. College is a big investment, so take the time to do your research.
Ask for help
College is one of the biggest investments a family can make. Whether you’re first in the family to go to college or not, the college search and application process – and the college experience – is different now than it was even ten years ago. So it’s not unusual for students and families to need help sifting through options, figuring out how to pay for college, and making progress in completing applications. High school guidance staff members are great resources; they have resources and tools that can be helpful for career and college exploration. Independent educational consultants, like myself, serve as an extension of school staff to provide more guidance outside of school hours.