As juniors travel across the country visiting colleges, seniors such as Michael Wong, Melissa Vazquez, Claire Pinson and Lauren Larrabee reflect on their experiences and what they learned from touring campuses.
Wong chose not to visit colleges last Spring Break but still stresses the importance of visiting.
“Surprisingly, the feel of the campus is very important,” Wong said. “Visualizing yourself there isn’t enough to judge whether or not you will be comfortable at the school.”
Earlier, Wong had visited UC San Diego, Stanford, University of Southern California, Santa Clara University, UCLA, University of the Pacific and Occidental College.
Wong advises juniors to be bold and ask lots of questions when touring.
Wong will likely attend American University.
Vazquez’s interest in potential colleges changed greatly after visiting campuses during Spring Break, 2014. Vazquez visited Williams College, Yale University, Washington University in St. Louis, Loyola Marymount University, Columbia University, Brown University, Vassar College, the Claremont Colleges, California Institute of Technology and Princeton University.
Vazquez said that after her Spring Break tours, she placed Vassar and Brown as higher priorities, placed Yale as less of a priority and threw out Williams as an option.
“Williams is in the middle of nowhere, and if I hadn’t visited I might not have realized how completely isolated and sad it was,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez said that she appreciated the beautiful campuses of Vassar, Washington and Brown.
Vazquez found that Yale did little to direct visitors and had few tours compared to Wash U, which sent itineraries and maps and recommended hotels and information on classes Vazquez could attend.
Vazquez also received a free water bottle, free cafeteria lunches and a folder from Wash U.
“Visiting Wash U reaffirmed what I’d already learned on the Internet about it having some of the nicest dorms and best food compared to other colleges in all of the country,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez agrees with Wong that the feel of a campus is important in deciding whether or not to apply, but also said that the people visitors meet on their tours influence what they think of the schools.
“I loved the student who interviewed me at Wash U,” Vazquez said. “I loved my Brown tour guide and the guy who led the Brown information session. Although judging a school on just a few people you meet might not be a very accurate representation of the whole school, it’s hard not to do.”
Vazquez said that after her visits, she still had not felt confident enough to make a decision. A Brown student who showed Vasquez around said that he had not been able to decide where he wanted to apply, but on his plane ride home he sat next to a Brown alum and decided it was a sign.
“I liked the story because it is really impossible to get a secure idea of what the next four years at a school will be like just by taking a tour or sitting in on a class or staying one night,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez advises juniors to accept how hard it is to make a decision and to trust their intuition.
Later, Vazquez committed to early decision for Wash U.
Pinson applied to Harvard and Princeton, but later withdrew her Princeton application to apply early decision to Harvard.
“Some people talk about the shining light moment where you just know where you belong,” Pinson said. “I thought that was just folklore, but I felt that when I was on Harvard’s campus and I didn’t feel it anywhere else. I just kind of knew.”
Last Spring Break, Pinson visited Harvard, Columbia, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Yale, Duke University, Purdue University, Notre Dame University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and Northwestern University.
Despite Pinson’s large number of colleges that she visited over Spring Break, she recommends visiting enough so that potential colleges will not be ignored, but not so many that juniors are exhausted by the end of their trips.
To avoid visiting too many, Pinson suggests researching colleges ahead of time to choose which ones are worth it and to find out which colleges are in the same vicinity. Pinson used online reviews from current students, guides and the search engine provided by the College Board to narrow down her choices.
Pinson also recommends visiting colleges alone to make the experience more personal.
“You need to be able to visualize yourself waking up on that campus every morning for the next four years and loving where you are,” Pinson said. “You need to be able to see how the students interact with each other and get a sense of the atmosphere on the campus – is it laidback, rushed or snobby?”
Pinson said that Harvard’s mix of being in a secluded college and being close to Boston was the biggest factor in her choice. According to Pinson, Princeton is more of a small town.
“Without visiting both of them, I never would have known which type of campus, rural versus more urban was more of a fit for me,” she said.
Pinson advises juniors to not commit to any schools without spending more than half a day at the campus.
“Sometimes an admissions talk and student-led tour aren’t enough to give yourself time to really experience a college,” Pinson said.
According to Pinson, the most important thing to do following a campus tour is to write down thoughts on the campus. Although it might be annoying and tedious, Pinson said that it is worth it.
“These notes are just for your use later on, so don’t be embarrassed about being overly critical or sounding too excited,” Pinson said.
Larrabee visited and later applied to Chapman University, Occidental, University of Redlands, Loyola Marymount, St. Mary’s College of California, Whittier College and Colorado College.
Larrabee encourages juniors to walk around campuses alone after their tours or to stay with a friend who goes there because what guides show students on tours can be different from what students find on their own. Larrabee said that overnight visits show what the school is really like.
On her tour of Occidental, Larrabee stayed the night, went to classes with friends and then went on a tour.
“I realized how the tour is totally different than experiencing the campus as a student,” Larrabee said.
Larrabee will attend Colorado College.
In preparation for her college visits, Larrabee composed questions and Googled her colleges.
“Not too much work but just enough to know what you’re getting into, so you can get the most out of it,” Larrabee said.