- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

Planning to make some campus visits this fall? Parents and teens should keep some basic ideas in mind as they tour campus, says Cliff Kramon, an independent college adviser in Teaneck, N.J.

• Let the school know you are coming. Call ahead and find out when tours will be available. Make an appointment to meet with an admissions counselor and attend an information session. This will not only make your visit thorough, it can help you at decision time.

“Colleges keep tabs on who visits,” says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a Virginia-based professional organization for high school and college guidance counselors. “Letting them know you are there can help them know you are serious about attending the school.”

mSummer might be convenient for you to visit, but it is the worst time to really experience a school, says Cliff Kramon, an independent college consultant. Going during the school year will give you a better idea of whether students are happy, what professors are teaching and what is going on at the university.

mLearn about the college before you visit. This is where books, brochures and Web sites will help give background on the size, location and academic environment.

• Take a student-led tour. Students can give you a more up-to-date vision of the campus today (compared to an alumni’s view of 25 years ago). However, keep in mind that a student tour guide’s opinions will be overwhelmingly positive since they are selected representatives of the school, Mr. Kramon says.

• If prospective students want to know more, ask the school if they can sit in on a class in their intended major or spend the night in a dorm.

mDo some of your own legwork. Good ways to get a feel for the place include reading the student newspaper (even the ads), eating in the cafeteria, browsing the student bookstore, reading kiosks and bulletin boards, and simply walking around.

“Doing this will tell you what students are excited about,” says Risa Nye, associate director of college counseling at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, Calif. She’s also the author of “Road Scholar,” a journal for teens to take to prospective colleges in order to organize their opinions. “Reading the newspapers can tell you a lot. Is this place all about sports? Politics? Read the bulletin board touting rides off-campus. That will tell you whether people stick around or can’t wait to get out of there on the weekends.”

mBe prepared for the logistics of campus life. That means wearing comfortable walking shoes and allowing time for parking, Mr. Kramon says.

• Take note of the layout of the school. Are freshman dorms far from class buildings? Where do students do laundry? Are cafeterias in the dorms, or will the students have to walk outside for meals?

• Ask about dorm life. Are buildings coed by room, wing or floor? Are there single-sex, quiet or honors dorms? Are freshmen required to live on campus? Ask to see a room so you can note what condition the buildings are in and whether the environment would suit the new student.

• Ask about crime, security and drinking, Mr. Kramon says. How do students feel about walking alone at night? How is the neighborhood surrounding the campus?

“Here is another way in which reading bulletin boards can help,” Ms. Nye says. “If there are signs for date rape awareness and alcohol awareness seminars, that could signal a drinking culture on campus.”

• Think about how the student will get to and from school. Is it near a major airport or train station? Does the school offer shuttles from the airport? Is the school within driving distance of your hometown?

• Try to visit a variety of schools, such as a large state university, a smaller university and a 2,000-student liberal arts school, Mr. Kramon says. Applicants usually narrow down their preferences after ruling out basic types. Also, don’t let distance dissuade you. Many schools are seeking geographic diversity, so you may have a better chance of getting into a school you like that is a bit farther from home, he says.

• Ask as many questions as you can think of — and write down the answers, says Robert Rummerfield, a former assistant director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University and the founder of College Visits Inc., a tour company for prospective students.

“There is no such thing as a stupid question,” Mr. Rummerfield says. “Write down your impressions of schools, even if it is just key words that will trigger your memory.”

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