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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/ 5/2010

Campus visiting season begins at spring break

By Valerie Strauss

My guest today is college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.

By Bruce Vinik
What do the Bahamas, Cancun and Boca Raton have in common? All are wonderful vacation destinations, but you are unlikely to find high school juniors and their parents in any of them over spring break.

You’re more likely to spot them on the road as they head to places such as Bloomington, Burlington and Boston. It’s time for that great American rite of passage known as college visiting.

Spring break is the unofficial kickoff of the college visiting season, which begins with the first exhibition baseball games and ends with the NFL playoffs.

The early visits of March and April are particularly important for 11th-gaders because it is the first time that many of them will set foot on campuses as prospective students. It is also the first time that they begin to consider the question, “Can I see myself spending four (or more) years at this college?”

In order get a real sense of the colleges they see, I recommend that students do three things on each spring campus visit:

1. Attend an information session. At a typical session, an admissions officer will talk to a group of students and parents to provide an overview of the college. Topics include academic programs, extracurricular activities, housing, dining, financial aid and the application process. An information session may not be the most exciting part of a college visit (I know this better than most since I’ve attended hundreds of them), but it is one way to develop a feel for a school.

2. Take a campus tour. At most colleges, a student will lead a group of families on a carefully choreographed excursion to showcase the most recently renovated dorm, the brand new chemistry building, the glass enclosed library and the main cafeteria on campus with its miniature versions of McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. (Of course, no visit to the cafeteria would be complete without reference to the eating options for vegans.) In my experience, no matter what buildings are featured, the campus tour is a very important part of the visit for high school students. In fact, it often makes or breaks the visit.

3. Spend some time driving or walking around the neighborhood that surrounds campus. Students should be on the lookout for things that they believe will enhance their college experience, from movie theaters and restaurants to big box stores and volunteer opportunities. Life beyond the ivied walls is important to most kids.

A student who has a particular academic, artistic or athletic interest might want to add a fourth item to the visiting agenda: meet with a professor or coach. Most professors and coaches enjoy speaking to prospective applicants and are happy to talk about the opportunities their programs offer. And please note that the vast majority of colleges do not offer admissions interviews to juniors in the spring; they are too busy worrying about seniors and filling their incpming freshmen class.

For more details about information sessions and tours, check out individual college websites; most allow students to register electronically. In order to arrange a conversation with a professor, it is best to call the admissions office. Students should email or call coaches directly; contact information is usually available on the athletics page of each college website.

While campus visits may not be as glamorous as a cruise in the Caribbean, they are a critical part of the college admissions process. And for kids who worry about sea sickness, what better place to spend spring break than Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota?

Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md., worked for 25 years in schools. At the private Georgetown Day School, he served as director of college counseling, director of admissions and financial aid, and as assistant middle school principal. He was the high school principal at the private Barrie School in Maryland, and has taught history, English and math at the middle and high school levels.


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 5, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  college admissions, college tours, spring break  
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Let me add one more.

Sit in on at least a couple of classes -- one in your intended major included. Average class size means less than whether a required core course is conducted in a large, warm lecture hall by a boring prof with only the most tentative grasp of English. As you leave after the lecture, ask students who was their best and worst prof. After all, the reason to enroll is to attend the classes required for graduation.

Posted by: mct210 | March 5, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

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