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Getting the Most out of Campus Tours, College Fairs and Info Sessions

Researching colleges thoroughly before you apply means going to campus fairs, campus tours, and information sessions. Right?

Not exactly. Administrators often design these events to project specific images of their schools. That means just absorbing information probably will give you a manufactured impression of the schools you’re considering, not an accurate idea of what these schools are like for students.

To get the real story, be proactive.

“A lot of students just show up with no agenda at all, and you really can’t do that,” said Bari Meltzer Norman, a former Admissions Officer at Barnard College/Columbia University. “If you don’t ask any questions you’re going to get the same spiel, like everybody else.”

Eliciting useful information from tour guides and admissions officers—information that enables you truly to distinguish between different schools—involves asking pointed questions.

Norman recommended asking tour guides questions that target students’ experiences: Why did you choose here? Where else did you apply? What are students complaining about? What’s one thing you’d like to change about this school? Do students have a strong voice on campus?

Push admissions officers to answer targeted questions at college fairs and information sessions. College fairs feature tens of schools, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Remain focused on discovering what distinguishes each school from the rest of the colleges in the room.

Good questions for admissions officers include: What kind of student would be most successful or happy at your school? What kind of student would not be happy? What is the average college student like? Work to get the answer you’re looking for. Many officers will tell you that students on campus are diverse, but there’s a reason high school students choose one school over another.

“Hopefully it’s a very diverse group but at the same time, realistically, there’s some common thread,” Norman said.

Going on college tours, to campus fairs, and to information sessions armed with incisive questions is an important step toward gleaning the most—and most useful—information you can. But the right approach involves, at its root, the right mindset.

To be proactive, Norman recommends adopting the perspective of students deciding between schools that have already accepted them. Instead of worrying yourself with whether the schools you’re researching will accept you, look at colleges with a critical eye: What appeals to you? What are the drawbacks?

“Students are so preoccupied with, ‘Are they going to accept me? Am I going to get in?’ in the pre-applicant phase that they can’t see the forest for the trees,” Norman said. “You have to see the campus as an admitted student.”

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