"Put your phone away"....and other advice for college visits

Spring and summer mark important milestones in the college search adventure. Thousands of eager college sophomores and juniors are flooding the campuses of universities all over the U.S. to get a real "feel" for colleges on their list. It's great if your parents tag along too, but students need to lead the charge. After all, you're the one who's going to live and study there. Here's some important advice to keep in mind:

  1. Head up, phone down. The good news about smartphones is that all of our messages will still be there in an hour! Do what yoga gurus suggest: stay in the present. Listen to your tour guide. Look around at your surroundings. Talk to the people around you. Check out the student body. All that drama will be waiting for you when you get home :)

  2. Plan for half a day. You'll likely need 3 hours on campus for a tour, lunch in a dining hall, visit with an admissions rep and a walk around any specific areas not included on your tour. Be sure to plan your schedule carefully so that you have time to get from one school to another if you are visiting two schools in one day. (Did you know there are 35 colleges in Boston alone?)

  3. Dress for the weather. You're going to walking around a lot outside (barring a hurricane or tornado alert). Visiting Northwestern in January means you'll need a very heavy coat and boots. A stop at Rice University in July requires short sleeves and lots of anti-perspirant. It goes without saying...don't wear new shoes! 

  4. Ask good questions. Think of questions you don't see answered in college brochures or websites. You might ask, "What is the glue that binds social life?" "What type of student is most successful here?" "What are some popular traditions?" "How helpful is the school with career planning?" "How would you characterize the student body politically?" Type up a list and put it in your pocket in case you get tongue-tied.

  5. Write a thank-you note. Okay, so you haven't mailed a letter in three years. In this case, a text message won't do. Go back to the dark ages and write a simple note thanking the admissions officer for his or her time. Mention something specific or memorable about your encounter or tour so that it doesn't look like a form letter. Don't forget the stamp. #mannersmatter