MODESTO — If you are in your last year of high school, you have much in common with the typical college-bound senior. You have written and rewritten college essays, gathered letters of recommendation and waited anxious months for acceptance letters from colleges.
Chances are, you probably have heard from at least one of them by now ... in which case, congratulations! But don't just let yourself off the hook too quickly. You need to narrow down your choices.
How, exactly, do you go about doing that?
While narrowing your choices based on the amount of financial aid you have received is a smart start, it is also a good idea to take a trip to the colleges themselves to see what each has to offer. And when you do swing by a campus, here are tips to keep in mind.
ASK QUESTIONS A LOT OF THEM. There is a lot of useful information out there about each college that cannot be discovered without asking. Just log onto the school's website and try scheduling a walking tour on a school day. That way, you can easily chat with the students and sit in on lectures. Don't be afraid to talk to your tour guide, an administrator or a randomly selected student if you have any questions, whether they pertain to academics, research facilities, athletics, study-abroad programs or recreational activities. Not only will you learn more about the school, you will gain a sense of how friendly and helpful the residents and professors are. Remember, these are going to be the people you may be interacting with for four years.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE ATMOSPHERE. The difference between logging onto a college website and actually taking a tour of a campus is the level of exposure you will gain.
When you take the opportunity to sit in on an anthropology lecture, or grab a sandwich from the dining commons, you also get a chance to soak in the atmosphere of the school. So whenever you have the chance to visit, ask yourself: How do I feel about the campus in general? Do I feel safe here? Is the campus nestled in a quiet, small town or a large, bustling city? Most important, can I even stand to live in this city for the next four years?
If you ever have any sense of doubt as to whether you fit in, maybe you should reconsider your decision.
CHECK OUT THE DORMS. Some college tours allow visitors to take a peek inside their dorms. If you are considering on-campus housing, take this opportunity to get a view of a typical freshman dorm room.
Better yet, check with the admissions staff to see if you are allowed to spend an entire night in one of the rooms. By staying overnight, you will get a feel for the dorm life and the night life.
GO OFF CAMPUS. You took a tour through the dorms, you gaped at the huge recreational facilities, and you sat in on a biology 101 lecture about the metabolic processes of lizards. Great! Now, have you thought about setting foot beyond campus?
After you are done bombarding your tour guide with questions, take a moment to explore the nearby restaurants and stores. You never know when you may need an extra pair of socks, or when you will get sick of dining-hall food.
Many colleges even designate a specific day for accepted students to sit in on classes, meet other prospective freshmen, and grab a meal with the campus staff. If this is the case, don't miss out.
The main goal of a college visit is to get a feel of the atmosphere and absorb as much information as possible about each school.
Sometimes it takes only a few campus tours to help you make up your mind.
Shellin Chuong is a senior at Beyer High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.