Make the Most of the High School Visit

By Joshua Henry

This time of year admission officers are traveling all over the country to meet students they hope will be interested in applying to their institutions. It’s likely that many will be visiting the high school you or your child attends. High school visits are an important opportunity for admission officers to recruit students, meet counselors and learn about schools. Likewise, high school visits are an excellent opportunity for interested students to acquire detailed information about a particular college or university, its application process and how it relates to students from their school.

Here’s some insight to help you make the most of high school visits at your school.

Plan to Attend

When colleges or universities schedule a visit to your high school, your guidance or college counselors should inform you. Likewise, if you’re on a college’s or university’s contact list, you can expect to receive a reminder email, postcard or even phone call in advance of the visit. This allows plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements with your counselors and teachers to be excused from class to attend the visit. It also provides you with ample time to do some homework on the visiting school. Prepare a few questions, both about the application process and the campus environment.

If you can’t be excused from class for the visit, don’t fret. You’ll be able to acquire the contact information for the visiting admission officer from your counselor and send him or her an email to introduce yourself and ask the questions you may have. Talk with friends who may have attended the visit first. Find out about what the admission officer discussed so you can direct your questions to those topics if possible.

Be Engaged

The last thing an admission officer, who is the midst of visiting four or five schools a day, four or five days a week for eight to ten straight weeks, wants to do is bore you with the exact same presentation he or she made at your rival high school five miles down the road or at a high school you’ve never heard of in the neighboring state. Lend him or her a helping hand in making the visit to your school unique. Speak up and ask questions – thoughtful questions. If you’ve attended an on-campus information session or started completing any of your applications, you know the basics about what information schools use to make decisions. So instead, ask more specific questions about how decisions are made or what are the most important factors in evaluating an application. Many admission officers will relish the opportunity to talk openly with students about the process.

Also, ask questions about the campus and its students. If it’s a college or university you’ve visited, ask the admission officer for more information about something your tour guide mentioned that interested you. Ask how the extracurricular opportunities compare to those available in your high school. These questions not only help you learn more about the college or university, they also help the admission officer learn more about your school.

Your goal should be to start a conversation with the admission officer. Make the visit feel more like a discussion than a presentation. There’s important information the admission officer needs to be sure to convey when speaking with you, but beyond that you can take control of the visit and steer the conversation to topics that interest you.

Don’t Over-Personalize

It’s possible that you may be the only student attending the high school visit, but more often than not you’ll be one of five to ten students, and sometimes one of thirty or more students. As a result, the high school visit is usually not a good opportunity to ask personal questions about the circumstances unique to your application. Doing so in a group setting can sometimes create an uncomfortable situation for the other students and the admission officer.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get the answer you want. Instead of asking about how a particular grade, disciplinary infraction, disclosure of a learning disability or other personal factor might effect your chances of admission, you may ask a question such as, “How do you consider a student’s grade trend?” or, “What factors do you consider besides grades and test scores?” There are ways to ask a broad question that will still elicit the insight you desire. Then, after the visit, you can follow up through an email or phone call to ask your personal question and receive a specific answer.

Be Good Hosts

It’s important that admission officers feel welcome visiting your school. Your guidance or college counselors are responsible for much of this, but you are too. Being friendly, making eye contact and participating in the discussion during the visit is important. There’s a very human aspect to working in admission and reading applications. Consequently, something as simple as having enjoyed a visit to a particular school can influence the reading of an application.

Hopefully you are able to take advantage of the high school visits at your school this fall. Use them to learn more about schools that interest you and possibly narrow down your apply list. The information you take from speaking to admission officers now can also help you make decisions between the schools you are admitted to in the spring. (And I’m guessing it doesn’t hurt that high school visits get you out of class too.)

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