Think About Essays During College Visits

Kim Lifton, co-owner of Wow Writing Workshop, says touring potential schools can help provide inspiration for your admissions essay.

What are you doing this summer?  Family trip to Niagara? Teaching tennis to elementary school kids?  No matter what you are doing, now is a good time to plan your college visits. Late summer and early fall are the ideal time to visit the colleges you’ve been dreaming about.

The following tips — the “Ins and Outs” — of campus visits, can be  found at the College Board website.  They were adapted from the  book Campus Visits & College Interviews.

  • Plan. It is best to go to campus before sending in your application, but don’t just show up on campus. The best time to go is when class is in session; preferably not on a Friday, when students may be leaving for the weekend. Your visit is all about finding the best fit, a point we can’t stress enough.  Give yourself time, and be prepared. Call the admissions office before your visit and ask if you can make an appointment with a representative from the school.
  • Ask thoughtful questions.  The standard tour will introduce you to all the most attractive features of the college, but you need to dig deep. See if you can spend a night in a dorm. Ask students what the best and worst thing is about the institution. Check out the cafeteria. Is the college located in a safe area? If not, how is security on campus? Walk around beyond the campus.  See what the city or town is all about.

As for your college admissions essay, a visit will prepare you for the question, “Why college X?”  You’ll be better able to answer that, honestly and with feeling, if you’ve done more than just read the brochure and visited the website.

Bring a notebook and take lots of notes. Use your cell phone to take lots of pictures. What stood out?  What did you love?  Maybe you were impressed with the student newspaper, and your intended major. Or describe how you felt watching the sun rise over the 100-year-old library. (Was there actual ivy?) You may discover that there is nothing enchanting, nothing that draws you in. Perhaps you might take it off your list, no matter how prestigious the school.

So do some homework this summer and schedule a visit to a school or schools.  Then you’re ready to dive into your essay — whether the prompt is specific to a school or more general. 

Kim Lifton is co-owner of Wow Writing Workshop.

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