Welcome guest blogger, Jackie Woodson! Jackie is a senior college counselor and essay specialist for Campus Bound. She has worked in higher education for almost her entire career, spending well over a decade in college admissions before joining Campus Bound in 2017.
Ok, real talk: One of my absolute favorite parts about being a college counselor (besides working with families, of course!) is touring college campuses. I suppose this is how I know I’m in the right profession. Walking around campuses, as part of a tour or on my own, can provide an excellent sense of what a college is about.
Even when on vacation with my family, I find myself drawn to local schools. It’s like a personal siren call. (Side note: don’t ask my family if they like me dragging them on campus tours during our vacations!)
Although I do love exploring campuses when away from home, as a Massachusetts-based college counselor, I have many opportunities to visit colleges when not on vacation. A few weeks ago, fellow Campus Bound counselor Jen Forand and I had the pleasure of touring Babson, a college that I hadn’t visited in years.
So: Let’s talk about the importance of visiting colleges, shall we? Truly, visiting ANY college is a “good” experience. Even if you decide that you don’t like a college, you’ll learn valuable information that you’ll take with you as you develop your own college priorities, or “wants.” Physically stepping foot on a college campus can provide you with tons of intel specific to you. For example, do you like the (insert setting type here: city feel, suburban feel, huge, spread out, rural feel) of the campus itself? Is this the kind of environment you could settle into? Why or why not? When I worked at one college (“on the other side of the desk,” to use higher ed jargon), we used to spend time detailing the 24/7 nature of our city location. The faces of some students would light up over our descriptions, while others would pale. Which student might YOU be? Would you or could you adapt to this type of setting?
When I’m working with students beginning their college search, I’m often asked what to do on a campus. My answer? Spy! On a campus, I’m nosy: I listen closely to the students, faculty, and staff around me, carefully observing conversations, gaining a sense of what people are talking about, what matters to them right now, and even noting what they’re NOT discussing. I also try to pick up on the general vibe of the college. Are people holding doors for each other? Do I see professors talking with students or their peers? Are students chatting together or completely immersed in their phones, gazing at it like a long-lost lover? As a prospective student, you’ll want to take this one step further than me. Be honest with yourself: what kinds of interactions or bonding do YOU want to have when on a college campus? Do you see sprinkles of what you hope to experience? Take notes for yourself—it will be important to you later, when evaluating your choices.
As you start to explore colleges, student, get yourself onto college campuses! It doesn’t matter right now if you want to attend school in a different region; anything local to you will help you develop a sense of what you want in your future educational experience. Once you’re there, take it all in. Start to realize what you care about, or admit to yourself what you don’t care about. I promise that each campus visit will bring you closer to creating a list of colleges that are truly reflective of what you seek in your next academic step.