Is your teen applying to university soon? Here are 9 ways to get the most from campus visits and open days
Despite the ongoing development and sophistication of university websites and online virtual tours, there is still no substitute for actually stepping onto a college campus; one your son or daughter might well be attending and with which they might enjoy a lifelong connection. For Hong Kong students and parents, this usually involves a journey of several thousand miles and considerable expense. It is therefore important to make the very most of the opportunity.
Here are some questions to ask and some pointers to follow:
Timing and Purpose
Are the visits intended to:
1. Give your child an idea of what a university is like and to whet their appetite for higher education? Or
2. To refine a college shortlist prior to application?
The former can be done at any time in the final four years or so of secondary school and often happens anyway, tagging along with an older sibling. The latter normally occurs in the summer before the final year of high school but some choose to visit in the spring or autumn for a more realistic “feel” with college students still on campus.
Open Day or Individual Visit?
“Open Days” are most popular in the UK and, as they sound, are days when the whole university campus is opened to the public and where the institution puts on its best face. On the plus side, you can experience sample lectures and presentations in your chosen field.
On the minus side, you aren’t guaranteed any individual contact with admissions or faculty staff you may have wished to talk to and have no opportunity to make an impression.
An individual campus visit takes more organisation on your part, but you will usually be able to combine a campus tour and an appointment with a significant member of staff such as the tutor for admissions in your chosen degree course. You may even be able to stay overnight in a student room.
9 Ways to Get the Most from Campus Visits
1. Be Realistic
If the student’s academic profile is “modest”, it is a waste of time and money visiting Harvard or Cambridge. By all means, include a “reach” college or two, but at a realistic level.
2. Plan Early
The geography and logistics of a good campus tour are difficult enough. Don’t try to organise appointments and campus tours less than three weeks in advance.
Not just your itinerary but exactly what you want to see, who you’d like to meet and what questions you wish to ask. Use the university website and/or prospectus in advance to make sure you cover all your concerns.
4. Visit a Range
Any final college shortlist should include reach, fit and insurance choices. This should be reflected in your campus visits. If you go as far as Europe or North America, it is shame if you only visit one or two campuses.
In North America, distances can be huge and you may only have time to visit one region. In that case, find one or two other colleges in that region to visit, even if they are not on your shortlist. Why? Because it is a point of comparison. And how can you make any good decision without points of comparison?
5. Make Notes
Do so during your visit and immediately after, as you drive away to the next campus or to a hotel. Otherwise, you will forget and each campus will begin to merge into the other in your mind. Use my trick and take a photo of the student guide on your campus tour to distinguish one from another.
6. Ditch the Parent
This is addressed to your son or daughter: When you meet the tutor for admissions, ask your parent(s) to wait outside or else they will dominate the conversation and you will make a poor impression. And, whichever staff member you meet, don’t forget to send a brief email thanking them for taking the time to see you.
7. Go “Walk About”
Try to get more than the “official line” by looking around the campus yourself and perhaps asking the odd student for their candid opinion. What are those other first-year rooms like?
8. Allow for Weather
We all know how a dreary, rainy day can affect our mood and vice versa. Factor this in when reflecting on each visit (and do the same for any strange or quirky individuals you might encounter!).
9. Use your Head and Heart
While your university research and campus notes should both be rational and logical, visiting a campus often involves intangible gut feelings, that tell you that this is the university for you (or not). Otherwise, the website and the online virtual tour would be sufficient!
Finally, do enjoy the experience and try to go without any preconceived notions of “favourites”. You will probably be surprised and pleasantly so.