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Tips for Making the Most of Spring Break College Visits

Thinking about swinging by a few college campuses over spring break? I spoke with Don Fraser Jr., director of education and training at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, about how to make the most out of your visit.

Planning is critical. Research ahead of time to learn all you can about the colleges you want to visit. Write down what stood out, take notes, and bring them along so you know what questions to ask. Look closely at the calendar and find out when tours are offered. If you have time and the college offers it, stay overnight to get a richer sense of the atmosphere on campus.

Consider your attitude. Have an open mind when visiting a campus. "Don't put too much stock in any one piece of information from a friend or website," says Fraser. "Try to go into the visit as objective as possible." There can be a lot of emotions going into a visit—maybe the student is being pushed to go, the weather might be bad, etc. Pay attention to those gut feelings and realize that might cloud your impression of the college.

Register your interest. Increasingly, schools flooded with applications are looking to see if you've been interested enough to visit their campus and weigh that in the admissions process, he says. Be sure to fill out a form when you visit so there is a record of your being there.

Set up meetings. If you want to know more about a certain department, contact someone ahead of time for a meeting or to sit in on a class. Interviewing with the admissions office on a visit varies widely by school, says Fraser. Don't just ask for a meeting for "strategy sake," but if it's someplace you really want to go, ask about a meeting.

Look beyond the buildings. "When people are being paraded through on a tour or wandering aimlessly on campus, look at what's posted on bulletin boards to see what's happening," says Fraser. Pick up the student newspaper and check out the police blotter to get a handle on the crime. Talk to students on campus, other than the tour guide, about the school. "Students are usually willing, ... and it can be pretty revealing," he says.

Develop a strategy. For many students, there are two or three schools that have risen to the top of their list that they want to check out first. If you can't do lots of traveling, at least visit a large and a small school and one in rural, suburban, and urban settings to make some comparisons. There are also virtual tours online to give students a sense of campus life.

Keep track of your travels. After a week of hopping from one campus to the next, they can all blur together so jot down some notes and snap a few photos to remember what you liked, suggests Fraser.

Other resources:

College Board has good information on planning college visits.

NACAC has tips on using the Internet in the college search.

Another NACAC article offer insights on soul searching before the process of college searching begins.

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