Spring break destinations often include a beach, but for some high school students, vacation plans include college visits or university campus tours. Kristin Williams, the director of recruitment at Columbus State University said spring break -- next week for Muscogee County and many Atlanta area schools -- is one of the university’s busiest times for college tours.
Tours begin in the new student recreation center and include trips to the student center, the library, recreation field, each student’s academic area of interest and the university’s iconic clock tower.
“I think it’s important for students to actually get a feel for the campus,” Williams said.
At Brookstone School, students have the option of signing up for a bus tour of out-of-state colleges after the private high school lets out for summer vacation in May, but some students recommend using any school vacation, including spring break, to visit potential colleges.
“I’m going to take the parent line here, but you’ll have plenty of spring breaks in college and they’ll be more fun because you’ll actually be old enough to do stuff,” said senior Nicholas Manago. Manago and fellow senior Brian Shaw have been on the college tour and have also visited multiple colleges with their families during breaks from school.
“You can combine both,” Shaw said. During a family trip to New Orleans one spring break, Shaw took some time to visit Tulane University.
“You don’t have to spend all day on campus,” he said. “There are plenty of schools in destination towns or on the way to vacation towns.”
If you’re planning on using your spring break week to visit colleges, here are some things students and admission counselors say to keep in mind.
-- Prepare for your visit: Students at Brookstone advised beginning research on colleges during your freshman year of high school.
“My dad loves to talk about college,” said Rosie Jeffrey, a junior who has looked at colleges in North and South Carolina, New York and the northeast. Before any campus visit, she looks up information about the college in one of the guides she has at home. U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review publish guides each year that detail average test scores, majors offered and living environments at colleges across the country. Ratings and reviews from current students and other information is also available online.
Look beyond the schools that are familiar to you, students say. If you’ve visited a campus before for football games or other events, go back on a class day.
“Anybody can have fun at tailgating,” said Frances Berry, Brookstone’s college counselor. “Go back on a typical day.”
On the Brookstone college tours, students visit 10 to 12 colleges in six days, so each student keeps a notebook of information on each of the schools. But even if you’re only visiting one school, students say it’s still important to bring a notebook to write down your impressions of campus.
Williams at CSU also advised bringing a camera to take pictures of the campus and comfortable shoes, since most tours involve a lot of walking.
But don’t dress like you’re already in college. Shaw said his grandfather still talks about other students that came on one of his campus tours wearing ripped jeans and sweatpants.
“Always dress well when you visit a campus,” Shaw said. “You represent yourself and your school.”
-- Ask questions: “Always come with questions,” Manago said. “They like questions and it gives you more information.”
One of the questions Shaw always asked at out-of-state colleges -- “Can freshman have cars on campus?”
“Tulane is six hours away from Columbus,” he said. “That would mean a lot of flying back and forth.”
It’s also important to ask about the parts of campus the college doesn’t advertise said senior Kristina Redd. Just as students are trying to market themselves to colleges, colleges are trying to appeal to students.
“No one’s going to introduce the negative aspects of a school,” Redd said.
-- Ask about classes: Williams said some colleges may talk about small class sizes for major classes, but ask about the average classroom size for core classes, like English and math as well.
“It’s important to know what you’re looking for in terms of your learning style,” Williams said. If students want to talk to a professor in their area of interest, she advised visiting on one of the university’s visitation days, which allows students and parents a full day on campus. The next CSU visitation day is April 16.
For John Logan, a junior at Brookstone, finding a school with a top-notch animal science program was important. “I asked about labs,” he said. He liked the hands-on learning approach at Berry College in Rome, Ga.
For Shaw, the opportunity to go to graduate school was important, so he also researched alumni.
“Look at alumni and see what they’ve done,” Shaw said. “How many graduates pursue higher education in one or two years?”
-- Ask about living environment: Look at the dorms, Logan said. “You don’t want to be living in something that looks like a closet,” he said.
But feeling comfortable on a campus goes beyond landing a suite-style room. It’s also about the size of the town.
“When I visited Charleston, my mindset completely flipped,” Logan said. “I thought living in a college town would be cool.” Now, he’s looking at schools in smaller settings, like Berry College and Sewanee University in Tennessee.
“I visited Sewanee and liked the rural aspect. It’s in the mountains. I like that,” Logan said.
Jeffrey felt exactly the opposite. She loved the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
“I liked the look of it. It wasn’t really a campus. It was in a city. It’s near a beach and the whole town is fun,” she said.
-- Ask about social life: “Your college experience needs to be well-rounded,” Williams said. “Make sure they have extracurriculars to fit your personality.”
Redd agreed and also advised students to ask about the social life at the school.
“If basketball’s important to you, go to an ACC school. If football’s important to you, go to an SEC school,” Redd said. “This is the place you’re living. You don’t want to be bored.”
-- Keep in touch and go back: Take good notes during your visit and think over what you saw, Shaw said. “Let it sit. Mull it over for a while. Think about things you really liked and didn’t really like.”
Shaw also recommended going back to schools at the top of your list at different times during your high school career, sometimes with friends, sometimes with family.
“It’s also good to see them when you’re older and younger,” he said.
All of the students recommended keeping in touch with the college recruiters and admissions officers you meet during a visit. Make an impression and they’ll remember you.
After visiting Mercer University, Redd stayed in touch with one of the recruiters there and reconnected with her when she visited Columbus.
“She remembered my name and face. She remembered my dad. Make yourself memorable,” she said.
“But not by wearing ripped jeans,” Shaw added.
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469