It’s almost that time of year again.
No, it’s not Christmas nor is it birthday season but rather, the bane of all incoming seniors: it’s time to apply to colleges.
Throughout high school, students are bombarded with reminders about college and told which classes to take and which extracurriculars to sign up for. And at every family event, they’re asked for a hit list of colleges they’ve applied to.
But this all pales in comparison to what senior year promises.
It is the widespread recommendation of both counselors and colleges alike that prospective students tour the college of their choice. The idea of visiting the place you might spend thousands of dollars on and years of your life at can seem daunting.
While shivering in 40-degree weather, I was similarly intimidated by the task of uncovering the “perfect” college over spring break. I visited several different universities on the west coast, including the University of Portland, the University of Seattle, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.
Here is a collection of tips that helped me during these two-hour tours, trekking through the campuses in chilly spring weather.
1. Ask Questions. I know, this suggestion is overused and falling upon deaf ears. I’ve been there; you don’t want to ask your college tour guide questions that may have unsatisfactory answers. But who else are you going to ask? Tour guides are usually the best people to turn to when you want the honest truth. Plus, they are happy to share personal experiences that hours of research can’t provide.
2. Stop and Smell the Roses. College tours are an excellent way to understand the school’s culture. Every school will feel and act differently. Likewise, not every school will feel right to you. Not only will every school have its own atmosphere, so will every dorm. The best way to see if you’re compatible with the school’s personality is to visit the different dorms and meet the people who live there.
3. Find Your Interests. Your tour will most likely not include a visit to the areas you want to study. Take a detour and explore the campus by yourself. Introduce yourselves to the advisors or teachers of the classes or programs you are planning to join. They would be happy to answer your questions and provide an insight into their area of expertise.
4. Eat Up! Try the food at the college campus eateries. You are going to be spending a large amount of your time eating on campus, so why not give your taste buds a head start? And, if you’re someone who thinks with your stomach rather than with your head, then this may be the perfect opportunity to decide if a school is right for you. If you happen to visit the University of Seattle, they offer free meal passes to students who go on their tours.
5. Amenities? Campus tours almost always include a look into a dorm room used by college students. Some colleges, including the University of Seattle, provide every room with a microwave and a mini fridge. Other colleges, like the University of Portland, offer large communal kitchens for student use.
If you are unable to visit the colleges of your dreams, then don’t fret! Many colleges offer virtual tours, which are almost like the real thing, minus the frigid temperatures or 800-mile road trips. Virtual tours are also especially useful when researching foreign colleges, which are a little more difficult to visit.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the school’s advisors to learn about any extra requirements your school of interest might have for international students. Many colleges, including the University of British Columbia, have large international presences and offer special programs to help these students transition.
Most importantly, we need to take a long breath and enjoy our last year of high school. While that phrase may seem like an oxymoron, it is (probably) possible. Good luck and happy college hunting!