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Making the Most of Your College Visit

by Erica Bauwens, Danielle DeSisto

Maximizing your university visit and helping find the right fit for your student

As high school parents and seniors settle into another school year there’s always one big question looming: What do we do about college? While your student’s college education may be a few months—or even a few years—away, it’s never too early to start doing your homework and hitting college campuses for tours and visits.

“Start early, especially if your child has a long list of campuses they want to visit,” says Craig Westman, associate chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University–Camden. “I don’t think there are ever too many visits you can take, and the tour is so important. A campus visit is a great way to judge the individual’s experience.”

Where to begin
Starting the college search is a lengthy and detailed process for students, parents and high school counselors. So staying organized and well-researched is the key to helping high school students find their future university.

According to Dan Reigel, associate director of admissions at Rowan University, “It really starts with the research. Students should utilize the internet and do research based on their interests.”

Reigel says to come up with a list of ideas your student is interested in, then do your homework from there. “Ask if they want a state college experience versus a private college experience,” he says. “Do they want a city or rural campus? Do they have a major in mind or career they are dreaming of?”

From there you can begin looking at schools and campus tours. Schools across the country offer a variety of campus tours, from open house opportunities throughout the year to daily campus tours with student ambassadors. There are even overnight visits available for students interested in living on campus or living far from home.

“Oftentimes students think about going to a place because a sibling or parent went there or maybe a friend is going there,” says Westman. “Having friends or siblings there does help, but that visit gives students the chance to really picture themselves on campus.”

Reigel says three to six visits is a great idea, and to spread out your visits based on your student’s interests and also the school’s strong points. But widening your focus is also important.

“I don’t think there is a magic number of schools, but I do recommend visiting a variety of schools—larger, smaller, urban, suburban, to see what best fits a student,” says Victoria Hopwood Bobik, director of undergraduate admission at Monmouth University. “Visiting different schools will help narrow down those factors that are most important to a student and help them really focus their college search.”

Who to talk to
Once you’re on campus, finding a handful of different people to meet and talk with can mean the difference between a successful visit and one that leaves you full of questions.

“The campus visit is a major part of the application process,” says Reigel. “It’s not until you get on campus that you realize if the school is a fit for you. We want them to come, check out the campus and interact with the students. We want them to get on campus, get information and go out with actual students and meet professors. These are people that they’ll interact with on a regular basis on campus. You have to be able to look around and ask yourself ‘“Is this where I want to be?’”

Along with speaking to admissions counselors and financial aid professionals, all universities stress the importance of actually interacting with students living on campus and attending the school. “Having students talk about their experiences makes such a difference,” says Westman. “No matter what we may say in admissions, what resonates with prospective students is having the students talking about their experience.”

Talking with professors is equally as important, whether your high schooler has a major in mind or is still figuring it out. That’s why universities offer open houses, which give students access to faculty members and students in their element. “All of the academic departments and various student life departments are in attendance [at an open house],” says Reigel. “They have an academic experience session, where they can go over the specific majors and get an overview of that major from faculty members. They then get to break into smaller sessions and talk to the students and professors in the programs.”

“Open houses are a great way to find out more about academic programs because faculty is available to speak to prospective students and families on those days, whether in formal information sessions or informal faculty receptions,” says Hopwood Bobik. “Conversations with faculty can really help you to discover options in their fields that you may not have thought about or considered.”

It’s those one-on-one interactions that can really help a student feel at home on a campus, and can help them picture their future with certain professors and departments. “Many times students will come to a campus visit thinking they want to go into a certain major,” explains Westman. “But when they get here and check out a class that could change. It becomes an exploration process, and they could connect with a faculty member or really connect with a special class and they could leave with a new focus.”

What to look for
The tour itself is the perfect time for your high school student to put him or herself in the college setting, so be sure they ask the tough questions that might make or break their college career. “We don’t want them to ask the questions that they can easily find on our website or in our print publications. We want them to get a little more intimate when they’re on campus and ask our students the hard questions,” says Reigel. “Ask them about safety on campus, what they like about the school, what made them decide to go to the school, and what they could change if they had that option.”

Important things to check out include classes and class size, student opportunities and on-campus housing. “If they’re planning to live on campus definitely check out the resident halls and what options they have for residence halls,” says Westman. “And look into student involvement, student organizations, study abroad opportunities, and internships, they are all very important.”

“Eat in the dining facility and sample the food. Strike up a conversation with a student who is not their tour guide. Visit the bookstore and the student center to get a feel of school involvement and pride. Attend an athletic event,” says Hopwood Bobik.

If your student is planning to commute, look into opportunities that will maximize their time on campus as well as their time off in their own community. “Often I’ve found that commuting students are ones working through their education. So look to see if they have classes offered at night, online and on the weekend,” says Westman. “And check out course availability. Often students will have their mornings free and work at night and need to know that they can take the maximum number of classes and then work as well.”

Ultimately, Reigel says, a student’s intuition can lead them to a final answer.

“A 16- or 17-year old student is getting advice all around. They have the campus experience, their parent experience, and their school counselors. Ask yourself—what are you looking for? Have a personal conversation with your parents and counselors and pay attention to what is most important to you.”

“A lot of times that decision is a feeling. You want to be able to say through the empirical process you can come to the best decision, but often there’s a feeling that the student has,” says Westman. “They have to ask themselves—can I see myself there? Is this the experience I’d like to have for my college experience? It can also be that intangible thing; the thing a faculty member said that really impacted them on a tour, or a class that seems so exciting. It’s about where a student can see themselves for the next four years.”

South Jersey’s New Community College Model

With the new partnership of Rowan University and Burlington County College and the former Gloucester County College, students are given an opportunity never presented before: receive an affordable college education from an accredited university, without the hassle. “This is a premier partnership with Rowan University in which both institutions remain independent, yet united in the goal to solve the affordability crisis in higher education,” says RCBC President Paul Drayton.

1. Affordability. Students can obtain a four-year degree for around $30,000, the price most university students pay for just one year.

2. Failure-to-Launch syndrome. Many students who originally choose to go “away” to school end up lonely and/or homesick, and their education suffers. “The partnership will help students to transition from community college to the university by providing more aligned coursework, which will lead to faster completion of a bachelor’s degree,” says RCGC Communications and Marketing Director Andrea Stanton.

3. Four-Year Opportunities. Students who wish to pursue a bachelor's degree upon earning their associate's can choose to do so at either the Rowan University campus in Glassboro or the other locations. RCBC and RCGC students will be conditionally accepted to the main campus upon graduating with a 2.0 GPA or higher and meet prerequisite coursework requirements, with the exception of a few restricted majors. University courses taught at RCBC will be available to students for a 15 percent discount.

4. Prestige. Rowan is a college with a “name,” so to speak. Potential employers will be more impressed with a student's degree from Rowan University than simply BCC.

5. What to do? RCBC and RCGC students will receive the same academic and career guidance as their peers at Rowan. “RCBC students will benefit from joint advising to ensure they are planning the most efficient path to a four-year degree,” Drayton explains. “Once students graduate from RCBC, they are considered Rowan University students regardless of where they are taking their courses.”

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 6 (August, 2015).
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