Six Tips to Maximize Your College Visit

Episode #82. Host Jonathan Hughes speaks with Drew Carter, Deputy Director of Admission at College of the Holy Cross, about his tips for students visiting a college campus. They discuss what to look for, when to go, who to talk to, how to remember your visit, and much more. If you enjoy the MEFA Podcast, please leave us a review.

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

MEFA Pathway

College of the Holy Cross


0:00 Introduction

1:47 Interview with Drew Carter


Drew Carter: [00:00:00] When I do admissions interviews, which would be, for usually rising seniors or current seniors, I said, my interviews are just, they're just great. Conversations and but there's one common question that I ask every kid. What advice would you give to yourself a year ago or, to our current high school junior about looking at colleges, what advice would you give?

And I've asked that very same question for 20 years. And how many interviews have I done in 20 years? Thousands. And I've gotten one answer. The answer is the same from every single hit. I'm talking across all demographics, all countries, all experiences. Everyone says, I wish I started a little bit earlier. I wish I started a little bit earlier, particularly, some students will say completing the application, but more often it's about it's about looking at researching and visiting schools.[00:01:00]

Jonathan Hughes: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of the MEFA Podcast. My name is Jonathan Hughes and that was our guest on the show today. His name is Drew Carter. And this is his second visit to the show, and he's another fantastic partner of ours, this time in the field of college admissions. And our topic today is six tips to maximize your college visit.

And Drew is just one of the most insightful people I know on college admissions, so if you're planning a campus visit this summer or any time in the future, you'll definitely want to listen to this. I'll be back with the wrap up, and in the meantime, I'll allow Drew to introduce or reintroduce himself to you.

Drew Carter: I'm Drew Carter and I'm really excited to be here today. And I'm also excited to be a member of the office of admission at Holy Cross here in Worcester, Massachusetts. This is I'm coming up on my 20th [00:02:00] anniversary and employment in the office of admission here at Holy Cross.

Jonathan Hughes: I will mention too, to everybody that Drew was on the show. How long ago was it? A couple of years ago now, right? And you should go back and check out that episode. I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but this, that is our most popular episode of the meeting podcast. And that was five. I want to say it was as it five things juniors can do to strengthen their application?

Drew Carter: Something like that. Yeah. Like I can't remember what the exact number was four or five or six, but it was, yeah, it was mostly about, really getting kids to focus on the things they control. And if they did, those things can really impact their applications.

Jonathan Hughes: Let's talk about our topic today, which is addressing almost the same audience of I think of college you can, we can talk about this, but it's about college visits, and it's six tips to make the most of your college visit. So let's start off with that question, is [00:03:00] who are we actually talking to?

Drew Carter: Yeah, I was at a with my kids, I was at a youth softball sorry, youth baseball game the other day and this family who I know came up and asked they said, can we ask you a work question for a minute? And they have a student in their family who's a sophomore in high school. And they were saying when's the right time to start visiting schools? And I said there's, there's no easy answer.

I'm glad you're asking. I did say though that, that's different for every family. It's good conversation to have. I did share with them though that when I do admissions interviews, which would be, for usually rising seniors or current seniors, I said, my interviews are just, they're just, Conversations and but there's one common question that I ask every kid, what advice would you give to yourself a year ago or, to our current high school junior about looking at colleges?

What advice would you give? And I've asked that very same question For 20 years. And how many interviews have I done in 20 [00:04:00] years? Thousands. And I've gotten one answer. The answer is the same from every single kid. I'm talking across all demographics, all countries, all experiences. Everyone says, I wish I started a little bit earlier.

I wish I started a little bit earlier, particularly, some students will say about, completing the application, but more often, it's about It's about looking at researching and visiting schools. And so I said to that family, I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer that question, but I will say what the future you is likely to say.

And that is, I wish I started a little bit early. So I think, whether it's the summer before your junior year, the summer before your senior year, no bad time to start, especially if you start with the sort of the right mindset.

Jonathan Hughes: Okay. Now one more question before we get into our six tips and that is. A lot of college campuses are in the news right now. Yeah. And here we are having this conversation about campus visits that families and students might want to make. So it did actually get me thinking, [00:05:00] is there anything that parents and students should be aware of? I'm not talking anything about the actual protests themselves, but just how might this affect, students college visits?

Drew Carter: Yeah, I think it certainly has. And I think, schools have have no sometimes, like friends who work at other schools who have notified visitors in advance that, that there may be a demonstration or protest. And that's actually currently. But I remember this in the past over particular issues.

I think it speaks to a sort of a broader question. And this isn't- this isn't one of my six tips, but maybe it's just a piece of advice. And that's to just remember the context of your visit. And I say that because I remember years ago talking to a student. They were probably a current high school senior at that time.

This was years and years ago. I asked them about visiting schools and what they liked and what they didn't like. And I don't know if they mentioned a name of the school or not, but they said, Oh, I went to visit this one school when nobody was smiling and I didn't like that. And I said. Okay. And [00:06:00] maybe it's because I work on a college campus and I know that there are times of year when no one is smiling and it's exam week.

And I just tried to, caution the student to say, on your, When you're walking down the hallway of your high school on your way to your calc exam, are you smiling? And, the students laughed. And I said, you may have been there during exam week. And that certainly may have impacted the way students were comporting themselves.

And so I think that's true for, little tiny observations like that. But I think it's a grander point about just saying, remember the context. And be open minded about the context of your visit that can be for whether it's rainy and you didn't see students out in the quad while it was rainy you visit, you see a large student protest.

There's a conversation happening on that campus right now, and it wasn't happening likely a year and a half ago, and it may not be happening likely a year and a half later. And so the more that I don't want to say. I don't ever want to say this to families to ignore that context, but [00:07:00] just be aware of the context as you're evaluating the school and understand that everything that we see and experience is through a certain lens.

And your visit on a day like that is through that lens of that weather and that protest or that exam week, whatever it might be, just to be mindful about that part of your visit.

Jonathan Hughes: I have one more question. And that actually speaks to the context right now, which is. It's getting near the end of the academic year in a lot of colleges. Is summertime a good time to visit campuses? And what is the context that should be kept in mind there?

Drew Carter: I would say there's no bad time to visit a school and, and I think that's true. I would transfer that to say, I'm often asked which school should I visit first? And I said, the best school to visit first is the first one you visit what's the best time to visit?

The best time to visit is when you visit. I think if you're thinking about. Could I see myself applying to the school? It's okay to visit in summer. That's totally [00:08:00] fine. When you start to get to the point in the process where you think, could I see myself attending this school? Or where is this school on my list?

Is it in my top two or my top three? Or is this the kind of school I want to apply early action, early decision to? When you start to really narrow and prioritize your list, I think then, if possible, it's ideal to see the school when a school is in session schools are living, breathing organisms, and when you visit over the summer.

Sometimes it's a little like being in a museum after closing, all of the stuff is still there, but it does feel a little different. It's by the nature of busy schedules, students are likely to visit school over, over the summer. And I think that's totally fine. Especially when thinking about, should I apply?

But when you start to think, should I go, should I intend, should I enroll? Should I commit to early decision? I think if possible, it's better to see it when school's in session.

Jonathan Hughes: All right. Now let's get. [00:09:00] to our first tip to maximize your college visit.

Drew Carter: Okay, tip number one it relates a little bit to what I just said, but not completely, but tip number one is to think about schedule. And that's partly based on what that school schedule may be, but I think even more so think about the larger schedule. And I say that because one of our most popular days here is the first Monday of April vacation. We're incredibly popular for campus tours here. And that's because that's Patriots Day here in Massachusetts.

And students, it's also the beginning of April vacation. And if you come for a campus tour at any college, university in Massachusetts, you and 400 of your friends will be on that campus tour. And you are likely to have a little bit of a different visiting experience than you did. If you visited the first Monday in May, when instead of 400 people arriving for their one o'clock tour. There might be four people. Now again, people live busy lives. I think [00:10:00] schedule we can be mindful of our schedule, but we can't always dictate our schedule. So I think just be thoughtful, and especially if you do have some flexibility, if you want a little bit more of a personalized experience, you may want to try those incredibly busy days.

Indigenous People's Day is an incredibly busy on college campuses. Veteran's Day. February vacation, April vacation. Admissions Offices, will have more robust offerings. on those days. But just know that you will be there with lots of other high school students. So just make sure that's the kind of experience that you're okay with. Okay to make or if not,, maybe doesn't would choose not to be around big crowds like that.

You may want to choose a different less popular day to visit. So that was my first tip was to think about schedule, be aware of the schedule and then react accordingly if you have preferences or options or flexibility.

Jonathan Hughes: And we're talking about planned tours, not a [00:11:00] drop in where you just drop in, but you're contacting the admissions office, correct?

Drew Carter: Yeah, exactly. And to the other point there about the sort of the artificial visit I'm, I will stand on that soapbox any day. I think there's incredible value in the unplanned visit. And yeah, gosh, maybe this should have been seven tests, but yeah, we'll keep on here. But yes, for that, for those planned visits yeah, you just really need to be aware of, yeah. Of why that day works for you, and if it works for you, does it work for lots of other people as well? And just to be aware and mindful of that's something you're okay with, or perhaps something.

Jonathan Hughes: All right. Now what's our second tip?

Drew Carter: Okay. It relates to that first one and that is going to be, and I'm going to sound like a parent that's going to be to arrive early. Here's the reality. Parking on college and university campuses is awful. It's terrible. It's terrible for you, the visitor. It's terrible for us, the employer. And that's essentially because colleges want green [00:12:00] grassy quads and walkways with students and academic buildings. They don't want that. Sort of cement landscapes filled with out of state plates on visitor cars.

Parking is going to be a challenge and then accessing wherever that admissions tour might be a challenge as well. Arriving early is going to get you there in time to check in to get your surroundings. And also this is like a. A little thing that I'm always aware of, it's arriving in time, and I'm going to even say maybe a little bit early, that's going to mean that when you walk from your car to that office of admission, you can be aware of your surroundings.

And instead of racing, because you're five minutes late for the tour, you're walking in a way that you're noticing the students you walk by, you're noticing the buildings you're thinking things you've noticed that you might want to ask about on the tour. That's, that little walk, there's value to that walk and but walk is the key word because [00:13:00] if you get there late, you're going to end up running and you're going to miss that part of the experience.

So understand that parking will be a challenge. Please arrive early wherever you're going. It's going to make it a better experience, but I also think a more effective experience because you'll get much more out of that visit. Because you'll be more aware of your surroundings and what you're seeing, witnessing, experiencing during your time.

Jonathan Hughes: That's such a good point. Now just curious if somebody does sign up for a guided tour and they get there early and they can mosey on over to their arranged meeting point. About how long does that tour last typically?

Drew Carter: At our school and at most of our peer schools, if it's a standard campus tour, usually the length will be between 45 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes.

Sometimes colleges will offer specialized tours The engineering facility tour or the nursing school tour, and sometimes those might be abbreviated, might be 30 minutes, but most of the [00:14:00] campus tours at that most of the schools will be in that 45 to an hour and 15 minute range. And that's, giving flexibility for any unique tour guide. Maybe the size of the group might slow things down but somewhere in that hour, plus or minus when you do it.

Jonathan Hughes: All right. Good to know. Tip number three.

Drew Carter: Okay. This is a good one as well. I think it's to prepare questions. Again, it sounds a little bit like a parent, but this is really about making the most of your time on campus. And I don't think this takes very long. I think this takes 5 to 6 minutes the night before your visit to that college campus, spend a few minutes on that college website. Poke around and think about programs, academics, student experience, think about things that matter to you. Understanding that you've never had this experience of being in college, never had this experience of being enrolled at that school.

And I think it's really helpful to think of, one, two, or three questions in advance that you'd like to get [00:15:00] answers to. Now these might be questions that would be answered naturally by the tour guide speaking and guiding you around campus or materials you might see whether it's in the waiting room or other spots on campus.

But hopefully by the time you leave that campus, you'd have some insight into those. It does help to write those down. I'm getting myself a little like a parent, but I think less like a parent, you can make that in your notes field in your phone. But I want to say try to make those personal about things that matter to you.

And I'll give an example rather than saying, I want my question to be, how's the biology department at this college. I can already tell you the answer is going to be it's great. What about a question being, I'm interested in biology, but I don't know if I want it to be my major. Is there a way for me to explore the classes here without declaring it as a major?

That's a little something unique to you as a student. I'll give you a second example. What do kids do on the weekend here? Okay, I think that'll [00:16:00] get you a wide ranging sort of broad answer. That's probably not all that specific. I think maybe even better question is I am interested in. Student government and music and kickball.

Are there weekend activities like that for students like me? Make it a little bit more specific or I saw on the website that you've got a spring concert coming up. Where on campus does that happen and who hopes to organize that? Try to make that You visit the campus, try to bring it alive with the visuals.

When that tour guide says, Oh, gosh, the spring concert happens right on that field over there. You're able to visualize that a little bit more, and you're going to hear about who the performers are and what that tour guide likes about spring. The spring concert every single year. So again, 1 to 3 questions, making the notes field in your phone.

It'll just make your there's a lot more effective and efficient and I think help you retain some information from that experience [00:17:00] as well.

Jonathan Hughes: Now, typically the folks doing these, the tour guides are students.

Drew Carter: Yeah, most schools, there'll be students at larger schools. Sometimes they're graduate students or graduate interns in the admission office.

The way old days, they used to be all volunteers. It's more of a paid position now at most schools. So it's equitable and available to all sorts of students. And I think, it's good to understand that they are probably working off an outline for talking points, but, Gosh, I think the more you can try to get them to personalize their experience and share about their particular experience, or maybe reflect on interest that you have. I think it becomes a more valuable experience for the students visiting.

Jonathan Hughes: All right. Tip number four.

Drew Carter: This is, I hinted at this a little bit. When I talked about arriving early, but I think and I was actually thinking about this morning. I parked up at the top of the hill here at Holy Cross, and I walked through the student center and as I did, I walked right past the main coffee shop here at Holy Cross, and there [00:18:00] are posters everywhere.

And those posters up were for upcoming weekend activities for the spring concert performer for announcements over some recent awards that were handed out on campus. And so my tip number four is to keep your eyes open. open to these posters and announcements and physical parts of the campus that are really going to tell you the story about student life.

You're more open to that. If you get there a little bit early, you're also more open to that. If you just spend a little time on campus away from admissions away from the campus tour, especially in that student center. I think in the those sort of announcements and posters and sometimes even the student newspaper, you can learn more about student life and the student experience, dining, residential activities, you can learn more than you would from the website or those glossy brochures.

We want to mail you in the admissions world. So you really got to keep all Your eyes open to that. And [00:19:00] even if you're following along with the campus tour guide and they're taking you through the engineering building, look for those posters, look for those announcements, look for those signs because it's true at high schools as well.

That's where you can really find out what's going on in the weekends. What are kids care about? What are they invested in and what options are available to them?

Jonathan Hughes: I was going to mention the dining hall, but I think that takes us To tip number five, right?

Drew Carter: Yeah. And I often give this piece of advice in closing remarks at schools where I say, try the food, but it's not because I think the food matters. The reality is the food's awesome at colleges. Now it's so much better than any of your parents will ever remember. It was there's options. There's variety, there's quality. It's. Awesome. And gosh, people are going to tell you what their food services are ranked. It doesn't matter. All the food is good at all the college campuses.

But I think the best [00:20:00] visit, the best campus visit for a high school student to a college or university is when you go to a space where food is served to those college students. Not because of the food you will experience, but. I don't know, you could rate all the smoothies you can get at every college campus.

But if you go to that student center or that student unit, you go to that coffee shop, you get a scone and a smoothie and you just spend seven or eight minutes lingering. What you're going to see and experience is culture and community and student life. You'll see how kids dress. Not just the tour guide who you were on the tour with, like regular kids dress on a regular day.

You'll see that professor stopping to chat with that student and, you might even be able to hear what they're talking about. You'll see the expression on the professor's face. When they pass by students, you'll see the way kids talk to each other, you'll see copies of the student newspaper, which right has much more insight than that admissions brochure we want to hand you. You're going to see the [00:21:00] announcements for the ski club trip next weekend and the sign up for the dance up on the following weekend. So it's not really about the food. But if you go to where food is served to the college students on that campus, you are going to experience culture and community. And that might be the most valuable seven minutes of a two hour visit to a college campus.

Jonathan Hughes: So I can't believe we are at tip number six already.

Drew Carter: This is a good one and I think this is again, this is going to make me sound like a parent, but it is to have some notes, have a record keeping system in place. No one, not no one. Kids generally don't believe how important this is. But trust me, once you get in the habit of visiting more and more schools, Your memories are going to start to merge a little bit, and it does get harder to keep them apart. There are so many qualities, the quad, the fountain, the flowers the library that we all have in common.

And there are small differences [00:22:00] and it may be challenging. I tell this story and it's a little bit hyperbolic, though. It's true years ago. And you'll understand how long ago, because I had, we were reading paper applications. That tells you how long ago, but I was sitting at this desk, reading a student's application, and it was on paper.

And she had sent a thank you note after her campus visit. And in the thank you note, she'd included a picture of herself on our campus. And I reached right over here and I picked up my phone and I called my friend, Kristen. I was very good friends with, and I said, Hey, Kristen I bet on your desk, you have an application from a student named. Blank. I don't remember the student's name and she said, hold on one second. Let me look. She says, I do. How did you know? And I said, because in my app, in the folder here at Holy cross, I've got a picture of her on the campus at Boston college. I bet you've got the thank you note with the picture of her at Holy cross.

We're all good. And that didn't impact the [00:23:00] students like chances of acceptance at either school. But what it goes to show you was that she had taken pictures, but even in retrospect, a lot of these college campuses have so many similar attributes that it can be confusing. So there's a couple of different ways.

And I don't think you need to keep a record of what you saw on each campus. I think it's more about what you felt. I'm going to give you one, one good idea. I give a lot. I don't know that anybody's ever fallen up with it, is that if you want to make it a little more valuable is there a grandparent or a great grandparent in your life who would love a postcard or an email to hear about your college visits that could then be your record keeping.

An email to grandpa. Grandpa. Today I went and saw Tufts University. Here's what I liked and what I didn't like. Gosh, they're in your email is now your record keeping for for your reactions to these college campuses. If it's postcards, if it's just your own journal, if it's a spreadsheet, whatever it is, I think you'll find that valuable [00:24:00] because like we said, some students start this process really early.

And, if you visit a school in the fall of your junior year, it's not for another 15 months that you're deciding, is this my number one or number two school revisiting those notes and those reflections could be really valuable.

Jonathan Hughes: Is there anything else you'd like to say before we go?

Drew Carter: I think, if I were to sum up all of these six tips it's just a little bit of prior planning is really helpful, not just in preparing questions and getting there ahead of time, but also in making a little space for your visit to find the food services and spend a little time and then to capture some of those reactions at the end.

So it's really about making these visits a little less. Less anxiety inducing, a little less stress filled, more effective, more efficient, and maybe a little bit more joyful. This is, this can be the search process can be filled with not just [00:25:00] value, but I think some enjoyment and some fun and some personal growth and development, and I think with just a little bit of the right mindset, I think that's certainly possible.

Jonathan Hughes: Thank you so much. And I can't believe it has been as long as it has been since you've been on the. The show and I keep, is this only the second time you've been on?

Drew Carter: I think this is the second podcast we've recorded.

Jonathan Hughes: Wow. If it's okay with you, hopefully you'll come back before the end of the year to talk about something else.

Drew Carter: I'd love to.

Jonathan Hughes: Thank you so much.

Drew Carter: Thanks, Jonathan. Thanks for having me. And thanks to all the listeners.

Jonathan Hughes: All right, folks. That's our show. Thank you, Drew, for being here and sharing your knowledge with us. I certainly look forward to having you on the show again, which we're going to do really soon. And folks, if you liked what you heard today and you want to know more from us on planning, saving and paying for college and career readiness you can follow the [00:26:00] show and you can find us wherever you find your podcasts.

And please remember to review us. It does help us to keep doing what we're doing here and getting the show out to folks like you. Oh, and if you have anyone in your life, family members, friends who have questions about planning, saving, and paying for college or career readiness then tell them about the show.

I want to thank our producer, Shaun Connolly. I want to thank AJ Yee, Lauren Danz, and Lisa Rooney for their assistance in getting the show posted. Once again, my name is Jonathan Hughes, and this has been the MEFA Podcast. Thanks.

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