Deciding which college to attend is one of the more important decisions a high school student can make, and one of the more important steps in that process is visiting the campus.
Having an idea of whether the school is right for you is something that needs to be found out as soon as possible, said Chalisa Harrell, assistant director of admissions at East Carolina University.
“I always tell students, one of the most crucial elements when researching colleges is to do a tour,” she said. “You will know if you belong there or not.”
It is important to see the campus and get a feel for the school before making a commitment, and to make sure you are attending the school for the right reasons, Harrell said.
“Just because Mom, Dad and older brother went there does not mean it is for me,” she said.
Making sure the school a student wants to attend has the program he or she wants to study is important as well, said Melanie Lynch, a counselor at Nash Central High School.
“Whether students plan to attend a community college or a four-year university, we encourage them to visit any college they plan to apply to,” Lynch said. “It’s also important for students to know that the schools of their choice offer the programs of study that they desire to pursue.”
Feelings play a large part in selecting a college, said Michael Pratt, vice president of advancement and strategy at N.C. Wesleyan College.
“I think one of the most important things is the qualitative feeling,” he said. “Either this school seems right or it does not fit.”
Even if a student is planning to attend a community college for the first couple of years, visiting the campus is necessary.
“If I were a student coming here, I would want to know, ‘Where do your students transfer to?’ ” said Timmy Tucker, Nash Community College dean of student transfers. “How successful are students?”
Most schools offer two different kinds of tours.
The first is a more personal tour, where a guide, usually a student, takes the prospective student and family around campus.
“We try to encourage students to ask questions, especially if the tour guide is in the major they want to be in or (is) from their hometown,” Harrell said.
The second is a larger group tour that usually includes several families and tends to focus on the social aspects of college, said Michael Jordan, vice president of student services at Edgecombe Community College.
“I would suggest that and doing an individual tour, so students get some one-on-one time,” he said.
Jordan does not recommend virtual, online tours, however.
“I want to see the lab and know that (it) is safe,” he said.
Choosing the right part of the day to visit is key to getting the most out of a college tour.
“It is easy to go to East Carolina on a Saturday, during the fall, when it is 75 degrees and everyone is excited, but what is it like Monday through Friday?” Tucker asked.
It is for this reason Tucker tries to get students to visit during the busier times of the day, and to sit in on classes, he said.
“It is important to get a balance of realism and experience,” he said.
Taking parents on a college visit allows for a different point of view, as parents and students usually have different questions, Tucker said.
“Parents are usually thinking of the things you would think they would: What is the cost? Where do students transfer?” Tucker said. “The students’ questions are more immediate. The parents are more nuts and bolts.”
Sometimes visiting the campus once is just not enough, Harrell said, which is why she encourages students to visit the campuses of their choice in the fall, get all of their admission requirements taken care of, then visit again in the spring.
“Go around to make sure this is definitely where I want to be, then make that final decision by May 1,” Harrell said.
May 1 is the cutoff date for many universities, Harrell said.
A good way to find more information about different colleges is by talking to counselors while still in high school.
“School counselors meet with students individually, as well as in group settings, where appropriate, to discuss their future plans for colleges and careers of their choice,” said Michael Hodges, assistant superintendent of student services for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.“Students are encouraged to utilize the advice received to build a ‘road map’ for their future by setting goals for their learning, as well as their college admission test scores, and by taking on meaningful learning and extracurricular experiences that will enhance their resumes and college applications.”
All of the high schools in the Nash-Rocky Mount system have counseling websites, where information like resume building tips and important dates can be found.