Own Your Campus Visit
by Rick Clark
I had the opportunity to visit Munich, Germany last week. It was a beautiful town. Rich history, amazingly friendly people, and extremely walk-able.
In advance of my trip I got lots of recommendations from friends and colleagues who had visited before.
- “Definitely go to the Hofbrauhaus;”
- “Climb the 299 stairs to the top of St. Peter’s;”
- “Go to the public bathhouse right in the center of town;”
- “Just be sure you get a pretzel… from anywhere.”
I also asked my e-friends, Siri and Google for “Top Things to do in Munich.” In the end, I hit a few of the “must dos” but also picked the experiences and sites that most interested me. However, some of the most enjoyable moments were actually sitting in the train station, eating in the restaurants, and riding the trams downtown, and going into local grocery stores. Granted I only half understood every fifth word (yes, that’s another way to say roughly 10%), but it was still a great way to observe and appreciate the city’s culture and personality.
I share this with you partly to talk up Bavaria as a possible future vacation or study abroad destination, but more so because April is one of the heaviest campus visit months of the year— as are the summer months that follow.
If you are planning a trip to a college campus soon, I hope you’ll follow these tips:
It’s not all about the Hofbrauhaus. Every person and site listed the Hofbrauhaus. I get it- remarkable place— and definitely a classic city trademark. But if you were to only go there, you’d miss the real heartbeat of the city.
Same thing with campus visits. Yes, you should go to the admission info session and tour. Not for the big brother element of whether they’re going to count it or track it, but because this is where you will get the highlights, hear the key messages, learn some history, understand their unique mission and goals, and see the key iconic buildings and top destinations on campus.
Wander, listen, engage
View from the top of St. Peter’s (after I caught my breath).
Unfortunately, too many people visit campuses and cities the same way. They hit the highlights and follow the crowds or lists. I’m imploring you to break away from the well-traveled path to dig a bit deeper and really feel, see, experience the places students (aka- the locals) spend time.
During my three days in Munich I probably covered a good 20 miles on foot just meandering down the river on trails, taking random turns on city streets, or walking to meetings. Yes, I got a little turned around (my wife insists there’s a difference between that and lost), but it was totally worth it because I was able to stumble on stuff I’d otherwise never have seen. And while my German is what you’d politely label “nicht gut,” walking so much led to some pretty interesting and memorable interactions.
Here is the good news— people on campus want to answer your questions. They want to help you understand what makes their school so great. Make time to wander around, loiter (in a non- threatening way), talk to students, peak in on a class, eavesdrop (we’ve covered this before as a critical life skill).
Listen the conversations around you; observe what students are wearing, discussing, and doing; sit in the student center and pretend to look at your phone or a student newspaper while really glancing about. If you will extend each of your campus visits by just an hour or two and make time for this, you’ll walk away with a much better feel for the place than simply running and gunning from one canned admission talk to the next.
This is YOUR visit
I have read a good bit about the 1972 Olympics and really wanted to see that area. It wasn’t what most people listed and it was not as convenient to my hotel, but it was important to me.
You’ll be spending time, money, and energy to go see these schools. Make the time to see what specifically interests you- the places you think will make up your experience. Get a feel for those areas of campus. A tour guide may simply point out the business school from 200 yards away, but if that’s going to be your major, you need to get there.
The bottom line is you should not simply take what they give you. Own YOUR visit. Are you thinking about playing on the rugby or participating in robotics or doing research or singing in the a cappella group (if all of the above, you are a truly unique individual, my friend)? Get over to the IM fields, reach out to a department advisor, or contact out to the club or group’s advisor in advance of your visit.
Ask YOUR questions
Tour guides are awesome people. They are involved, passionate, and volunteering their time. They are taking you around a place they love, which means they can absolutely wax poetic about campus history or spin yarns about classmates or friends and their adventures in college.
They’ll go into lots of detail on history, facts and interesting information, but they also love to hear and answer your questions. Be proactive and bold enough to ask. Don’t want to interrupt the tour guide or ask publicly? Totally fine. Wait until you’re walking between points or hold your questions until the end and ask privately.
Think about it this way- you are making a decision about where to spend the next four or five years of your life (a time span representing a solid 20-25% of your life to this point). If you are serious about applying to or attending that college, you need to hear first- hand from as many people on that campus as possible about the things that matter to you (students, advisors, faculty, admission reps, etc.) Are their answers similar? What can you learn about the college’s culture based on commonalities?
Too often we hear students say, “Yea. I didn’t apply there because it was raining on my visit.” Or “I just didn’t like what my tour guide was wearing, so I didn’t apply.” Come on, people! You would not want someone to judge your high school or hometown based on one person they met from there, right? Don’t do that to a college that has 5000 or 50,000 on campus. YES, this means working a little harder. Sorry. That’s college, my friends.
I’m challenging you to go with 3-5 questions you really care about and be sure to get those answered while you are there. Can’t think of unique or helpful questions? Here are a few:
- What has surprised you or disappointed you about this place?
- What do you wish were different here?
- What do most people not realize this college is really good at?
- What makes this place different (not better) than other schools?
- How has this school changed or shaped you?
- What has not been asked today that you think is important for everyone to know?
- Document, document, document (this is also a good HR lesson, but we’ll save that life advice for another time).
If you are barnstorming through 8 campuses (or 18 campuses) in a week, they’re going to start to blur together:
- Where did we see that library that didn’t have any books?
- Who was it that said they were adding a program in artificial intelligence?
- Was that in Illinois or Indiana where we met the kid who held the national jump roping title?
Take the time during or right after each visit to write (type, bullet point, take pictures, voice record, etc) down your impressions. More of a spreadsheeter? Go ahead and quantify or rate things that matter to you: academic program, quality of food, campus feel, style of tour guide, surrounding community, access to internships. Just get this stuff recorded in some organized manner, so that you can revisit it later.
- What impressed you about the students?
- What did you not like about the size or layout of campus?
- How was the food or coffee?
- What did the labs look like if you are going to be a bio major?
- What did they say about internships or co-op opportunities?
Yes, I’m jet lagged and spit balling here (a dangerous combo). Again, you need to have your questions answered and focus on the elements of campus that matter to you.
Be nice to the people at the front desk when you are checking in for tours. Sometimes this is a student (could be you in a year or two), sometimes this is the admission counselor who will be reading your file (and they have great memories and a powerful note taking CRM at the ready), sometimes this the director of admission just taking her/his shift at the desk.
Bottom line- Don’t be jerk. This can also be applied to baristas, hotel clerks, airline gate agents (bear with me), etc. Golden rule, my friends. Embrace it.
Have fun and travel safe. Enjoy the adventure!