Many students and families embark on college campus visits during high school breaks. These can be a great way to learn more about the admission process, tour campus, and of course, most importantly talk to current students.
If you’re the student in this situation, it’s important to take a few minutes and think through your own expectations around the campus visit and what you hope to get out of it.
We asked a current student to share about her college visit process, which she did during her junior and senior years of high school. Katherine is a junior at Emory College of Arts and Sciences and graduated from a public high school in Pennsylvania.
Prior to really beginning the college search process, I always believed that I would attend a small liberal arts college. As a young woman more comfortable in smaller group settings, who planned to study the humanities and was already developing a passion for social justice, attending a small liberal arts college made sense. Plus, many well-meaning adults and mainstream media told me this would be my best fit, too. I had been lead to believe that because I considered myself more artistic, that a research university with a strong representation of STEM fields would crush my more conceptual dreams. As a young high school student, of course, all I had were these second-hand understandings of what any university or college would be like because I had never visited one myself.
During my junior year of high school, I had the fortunate opportunity to start visiting college campuses, and thus, start challenging the preconceptions I had been relying on up to this point. I decided to visit all kinds of college campuses at the urging of my older friends, as well as family and teachers. They challenged me to explore outside of my comfort zone.
My mom and I had already spent a good deal of time traveling up and down the East Coast of the United States. Finally, the time had come to visit the school that—I thought—and everyone else thought—perfectly encompassed the college experience I had always imagined I would have. (For the sake of respect, this college will remain nameless in this post). I had close friends, a pair of cousins, and professional role-models who had all attended this college, so I was particularly excited to visit and discover how this school would similarly inspire me.
I arrived on campus, eager to begin my two-day experience, during which time I would tour campus, see a student performance, meet with a well-respected professor in the department I intended to major in, and visit a class. There was also a good deal of free time to explore campus on my own, where I sat in a campus social spot with other visiting students, enjoying a great two-hour conversation. All in all it was a great campus visit, and I had no disappointments in the programming, students, or campus.
When I reconnected with my mother at the end of my visit, I told her how comfortable I had felt, how easily I had seen myself fitting in there because everyone I spoke to shared my views and felt incredibly similar to me. She had been excited for me, yet I found that I was not excited for myself in spite of all these seemingly positive descriptions.
This school encompassed the small liberal arts college fantasy I had created in my mind, but I found myself unfulfilled following the visit. I was comfortable, but I was unchallenged. The school was perfect for who I was as a high schooler, but when I imagined myself there as a college student, I did not see myself growing or changing.
While the school may have been what I thought I wanted, it was not what I needed. I knew that to take full advantage of my education, I needed to be made to feel uncomfortable by being presented with new ideas, new people, and new challenges. I could not spend four years surrounded by people exactly like me and still expect to grow. I needed striking differences from my life previously so that I could adapt in new ways that would better inform my ability to be a well-rounded and impactful person.
While the school in question and the ideals of the small liberal arts college were not right for me, the experience of visiting that school was. Over the course of my college search, I toured over twenty different schools and in the end, there was one—because of the resources, opportunities, and diversity on campus—that proved to be the best fit for me. But those twenty plus visits were not in vain.
Every school that I visited, regardless of whether I ultimately applied to it or enrolled, was critical in helping me to discern what exactly I wanted out of a college education. Those visits and those schools taught me what I did and did not want, and they taught me how to find it.
As I look back on that time of my life now, as a junior in college, I am incredibly grateful for the wide range of visits my parents and teachers pushed me to make, and for the schools who kindly opened their doors to me. I encourage you to make the most of the visits you and your family are able to make, and consider for yourself what location will propel you into the person you want to be.
Katherine Dautrich 18C
English Language & Literature and American Studies
Tredyffrin Township, PA