Prep Work

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Just the thought of planning college visits can be overwhelming for high school students and their parents. How many schools should you see in one day? What are the best seasons and times to visit? And aside from attending an information session and taking a tour of the campus, what else do you even do on a college visit? Thankfully, some experts from area schools provided us with top-notch tips to get you started.

Pre-planning early is the first piece of advice many experts give. Aaron Basko, assistant vice president of enrollment management and career services at Salisbury University, says that starting early—specifically in the spring of junior year and the summer before senior year—is essential. “If students can start and see as many schools in the spring and summer, it gives them a chance to see what they like before they send out their applications,” Basko says.

Ann Marie Strauss, director of college counseling at Garrison Forest School, assures that a summer visit, when most students are absent from campus, isn’t the end of the world. “Ideally, the best time is when the students are on campus, when you’ll get the most authentic feel of the ethos of the community,” she says. “However, if they can’t visit in the spring of the junior year, summer of senior year is when many [visits] happen. Even if it’s not a full session, you can get a feel for campus—architecturally, aesthetically and whether or not you like the location.”

Darryl Tiggle, director of college guidance at the Friends School of Baltimore, also agrees that summer is a good time for students to begin their college search—starting with nearby schools to determine what kinds of college campuses appeal to them.

“In Baltimore, if you want to explore what a small liberal arts college feels like, you can visit Goucher or travel to McDaniel. If you want a college campus in the city [or nearby], look at Johns Hopkins or places like Georgetown, American, George Washington or Howard University in D.C.,” Tiggle says. “If you think you’re interested in a Division I flagship university, visit University of Maryland. Once students have a good idea of what type of college fits them, then they can tailor their search to visit those types of colleges later in the fall.”

Lori Smith-Watson, assistant director of undergraduate admissions and orientation at UMBC, says an ideal time to visit her particular campus is during an open house, which allows for prospective students to sit in on classes and spend time talking with undergraduates and professors. UMBC also offers a “Just for Juniors” day each spring, which recently catered to about 1,500 high-schoolers.

Both Strauss and Basko advise to visit no more than two schools in one day, for at least two hours. Usually, one hour is set aside for an information session at the
admissions office and another hour for a student-guided tour.

During these sessions, Lauren McDonald-Hyland, academic services specialist at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University, suggests that parents let their kids lead the conversation. While parents have a lot of concerns and questions, letting prospective students lead with their own questions may lead to a more productive visit, whether or not they liked what they learned, she says.

While tours and information sessions are the norm, Strauss stresses that it’s beneficial to explore the school outside of the standard visit. “Oftentimes, when you do your admissions office visit, they’re putting on a show for you. It’s very scripted. We want kids to look behind the curtain, look backstage,” she says. “We want them to go to the dining hall and eat there, go to the bookstore, pick up a student newspaper and see what the campus issues are. You can get a lot of information outside of an official tour.”

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