By Adrienne Diercks, February guest blogger
College tours are not rocket science (unless that is what the student wants to explore!). However, the depth and breadth — engaging fully with the experience and the process — is critical to a successful college visit. Earlier this month I wrote about the importance of “why” to a student’s college search. A student who has done the work of the “why” knows herself — her passions, strengths, values, and what she wants to learn from a college search. When she is supported by a trusted adult, knows how to find out what’s “out there” and has the tools and skills she needs to explore her choices, she is equipped to make deductions and analyze her options. It’s easy to look at the surface, but when a student peels away the layers and truly understands what she is looking at, she is able to reach the best decision for herself and her future.
Project SUCCESS has been bringing students to college campuses for 20 years. Over that time, we have identified and incorporated key components to help students peel back the layers and make the best decisions. I want to share a few of these best practices with you. I would also like to hear from you — what best practices have you incorporated? Where and when have you seen students find success in the search process? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Project SUCCESS organizes and hosts state and national college tours to more than 40 campuses each year. These are critical opportunities that inspire and educate students, including many first-generation college applicants, about post-secondary education opportunities. For some students, a campus visit will inform them instantly whether or not that particular campus is right for them. For other students, a campus visit to any college is beneficial to see firsthand what college life is like and to motivate them to start their college search.
Our staff conducts workshops on tour days to help students make the most of their campus visit. Students identify three to five key values they want to see in “their” college. They prepare thoughtful questions for admissions staff.
In addition to the typical student-led tour and admissions presentation, when possible we also schedule a student panel so our high school students can ask current college students candid questions about their college experience. A visit to the office of cultural diversity is important as well, as we bring a diverse student body from a large urban district on these college tours. We eat lunch on campus (in the dining center) and encourage our students to sit with current college students and ask questions.
We conduct neighborhood tours, visiting the community that surrounds the campus. Students ask themselves, “Is this a community that I can see myself living in and that I want to be a part of?” When a school feels like the right fit after a visit, we encourage students to take the next step of scheduling an overnight visit and sitting in on at least one class.
Following campus visits, students' facilitators are available to help them take the next steps in the application process through after-school one-on-one planning sessions. What are the next steps a student should take if he found the perfect school? What if he didn’t find one that resonates?
When students feel that the school they are visiting is not the right fit, we encourage them to think critically about that conclusion. We want them to ask themselves, “What is it that doesn’t feel right to me about this school? What would make my opinion change? How can I find another school that might have those attributes?”
Virtual tools and online resources are extremely valuable, but nothing can replace the immersive campus visit experience. It completes the foundation of “why” and truly enables students to make conscious, well-considered decisions with confidence, which builds the foundation for success.