One of the most important steps you can take when deciding what college to go to is do a campus visit. It’s a lot like taking a car for a test drive before you buy it. You take a car for a test drive to see how you feel while behind the wheel. Does the car feel right? The college visit is a lot like that, you go on campus, you take the tour, you look around, you talk to the students…all to get a feel for the school. Does it feel right to you? Sit on a bench and look around at the students milling around. Do you see yourself among them?
For some reason, Filipinos are not a test driving people. It’s not unusual for us to buy a car simply on the reputation of the brand or the say so of a trusted friend or relative. I remember when I was in the market for a car here in Manila, I walked into a dealership, asked about a particular model and asked if I could test drive the vehicle. I got a lot of funny looks from the salesman and eventually I was able to convince him to give me a test drive. I had to come in the following day with an appointment for the test drive, which was all of about ten or fifteen minutes and the salesman and his manager were with me watching me like a hawk. Contrast that with my experience in the US. I once walked into a Mercedes dealership in the States, expressed interest in a Mercedes C Class and the salesman put me in a car, photocopied my license, gave me the keys and told me to have fun. I drove around for 20 minutes or so and returned the car without so much as batting an eye.
In many ways, Filipinos are that way about colleges. We don’t bother visiting them, even the local universities like UP or Ateneo. We go by reputation or what a friend or parent says. We do that for US colleges too….we know precious little about the colleges we are interested in but can’t be bothered to make the trip to see them. We go by name and reputation (Ivy League, Stanford) or what an uncle or aunt who lives there says about a local or regional school.
So why don’t we visit colleges? Some people cite time…no time to visit US colleges especially if the applicant is already a senior. I can understand this a bit. All the more reason to start the application process early. If the student had started the application process in the junior year, then there’s the summer between junior and senior year to make college visits. Others cite costs…it costs at least a couple thousand dollars to make the trip. This reason makes absolutely no sense to me. If you’re ostensibly willing to plunk down anywhere around $250,000 for four years of college (Php 10 million) why wouldn’t you spend a few thousand to see if a school is right for you? You’d be surprised, a school which you may have fallen in love with on paper (or electronically on the Internet) might not hold up as well when you actually see it. You might actually hate your #1 choice school in the sobering light of day.
If you do decide to visit, what should you do? First of all, make sure to let the college know you are coming. On the college website, there is usually a link that says “Visiting Us” or something similar which will take you to instructions on how to arrange a college visit. Normally all that is required is to fill out the online schedule form and that’s it! You show up and there’s normally an information session before the actual tour which normally lasts about half an hour to an hour. You roam around campus with a student tour guide and you can ask questions about life on campus, classes, professors, etc. Finally you return to the admissions office where you can ask final questions and sometimes, if you’ve arranged this beforehand, you can be interviewed (hint: if this option is available, TAKE IT!!!) I would advise people to go beyond the college tour. When my son and I did our college visits in 2012, we would invariably take the college tour, then get a bite at the college cafeteria or a local place (sample the food) then go visit the math department (he was a prospective math major). Invariably this told us more about the university than just the canned tour. Stanford was an impressive school until we visited the math department and got a taste of the students there (no , thank you! Stanford got the thumbs down) Same with Columbia, the students were a big turn off. Harvey Mudd was exciting and Santa Clara was very friendly and accommodating to him (thumbs up! He applied to both places) Finally, take the time to talk to actual students and faculty. If they like it here, they’ll tell you…if they don’t, they’d love the opportunity to complain.
If you really want to get into it, you can even arrange for overnight visits when you get to stay in the dorms and sit in on classes. If you can do this, I would strongly recommend it. No better way to see the every day comings and goings of a particular school than to live among the natives.
So don’t just go by the literature or the website of a particular college to see if it’s right for you. Take the time to go visit the colleges in your college list. You’d be surprised at what you will find when you go and take the car out for a test drive.