What to Consider Before Making College Visits

Once the holiday wrapping paper is cleaned up and the page is turned on the calendar, many high school juniors, and even a few undecided seniors, will shift their attention toward planning college visits. It’s the time when prospective students, eager to write their next chapter, get a feel for life on campus as they begin the college selection process.

Recently, Pink Tractor talked to representatives of various universities with notable agriculture programs to ask them what students should consider when making campus visits.


Why college visits are important

Courtney Hallenbeck, assistant director of recruitment programs at Kansas State University in Manhattan, said college visits are one of the most impactful experiences a student can have during the college search process. Kansas State University offers more than a dozen ag-related major and minor programs.

“Through a visit, you can truly get a feel for what life could be like as a student walking the halls at each institution,” Hallenbeck said. “Once high school students have a grasp on their priorities, I think it is a great time to start visiting colleges.”

The process should be initiated once students can articulate what they are looking for in a school, she said.

“I suggest that students visit campus while classes are in session so they can see the campus during peak times,” Hallenbeck added. “However, colleges know that visiting when classes are in session is not always possible, and should be willing to work with you on scheduling a visit that best fits the needs of your family.”

At Kansas State, students are invited to schedule a personalized campus visit or attend an event day. On a personalized visit, students typically meet with representatives of academic areas of interest, a financial aid representative and an admissions counselor who can explain the application and scholarship process. Appointments and tours are held individually or in a small-group setting.

Elle Huff, co-director of the admissions call center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said the school offers four student-led, three-hour campus tours each weekday. Purdue offers nearly 40 ag-related undergraduate programs.

The walking tours at Purdue include a 45-minute session with representatives of the admissions office, as well as stops at academic facilities and residence halls. When reserving a spot for the tours online, prospective students have the option to customize their visit so they can get a closer look at specific schools such as the College of Agriculture.

“That will help you get a better idea if your intended major is appropriate and if the school is really a good fit for you,” Huff said.

And if a prospective student is undecided on a major or a specific career, that’s OK, too, said Charlotte Emerson, director of student development and recruitment for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The university offers guided tours and prospective students have the opportunity to meet with one of the 23 advisors who oversee each of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ 23 major programs.

“Some students are scared to say because they feel like if they verbalize it, then they’re locked into it,” Emerson said. “If you are 17 or 18 years old, the sky’s the limit. The point of college should be to have a lot of different interests, and then try to figure out from there what it is you want to do.”

Emerson said students coming into college today tend to be much more prepared than students who showed up on campus a couple decades ago.

“With dual-enrollment and (advanced placement) credits, some of these kids are arriving with 60 credit hours,” Emerson said. “What we try to help them with is a better understanding of where they fit in and exploring the the breadth of the major.”


Do your research

Before even setting foot on a college campus, students should research each of their possible choices, considering what factors are important to them. This will help them weed out unrealistic options, which is especially important if those options are a great distance from home.

“These factors could include, for example, academic programs, size, location, campus atmosphere, available support resources, just to name a few,” Hallenbeck said. “If you can, check out how any dual-credit or AP classes transfer to the institution you are visiting.”

Huff said typically schools such as Purdue have a four-year plan-of-study on the admissions section of their website. This allows students to see all the required courses they will need to take in order to complete their degree. She urges prospective students to delve into course descriptions for those major courses, as well as required electives, to get a feel for the subject matter.

“You need to make sure that you’ll be OK with what you’ll be doing for the next four years,” Huff said.

Emerson added that students should have a good understanding of what the college’s requirements for graduation are and should delve into individual course descriptions within the majors. For instance, at the University of Florida, students who come through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, are required to complete a chemistry or biology course. They must also take courses in economics, public speaking and technical writing, so they enter the workforce well rounded.

Emerson added that prospective students should have a good handle on scholarship and internship opportunities before making their campus visit, so once on campus they can ask specific questions about those programs.

She also encourages undecided students to consider what she calls “under-enrolled” ag majors, such as food science.

“The need is always going to be there,” Emerson said. “As a result, the jobs will always be there.”


Make the most of the time on campus

Before arriving on campus, be sure to schedule a tour over the phone or online. Emerson said that unexpected pop-ins will not be an effective way of getting the whole picture.

“Don’t show up from Minnesota the day of and say ‘We were just in the area and wondered if we could have a tour,’” Emerson said. “It’s not that we won’t accommodate you, but it is just hard to coordinate everything at the spur of the moment. We really encourage students to prearrange their visits.”

Hallenbeck said that while prospective students are on campus they should interact with current students and ask them to be candid about their experience at the school.

“I challenge visitors to stop students on the sidewalk and ask these questions,” she said. “Having that honest, firsthand response is so important.”

She also suggests asking current students what their favorite places on campus are, and then going there to check them out. Also, make a list of educational and experiential priorities, and then visit locations that correspond with that list.

“Find out what the school is known for, what makes them stand out, and travel to that location,” Hallenbeck said. “This may be student unions, libraries or recreation centers.”

College should be about broadening horizons, Emerson said. Students should consider what it would be like to open their world to new experiences and new points of view.

“College is a melting pot of students,” Emerson said. “It should push you out of your comfort zone.”

Emerson added that prospective students also should investigate clubs and activities that could tie into their major and help them stand out once they enter the job market. Those programs also will help instill vital skills such as communication, time management and conflict resolution.

“The more a student is exposed to, the more they have to offer a potential employer,” Emerson said. “It’s what will set you apart from everyone else. You need to continue to grow yourself and make yourself interesting.”


Ask ‘a lot’ of questions

Merideth Sherlin, the director of admission at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said “no question is out of bounds” when it comes to her and her staff. Each year they field many queries from the university’s approximately 2,500 incoming freshmen students.

“A guided tour is a great opportunity to ask a lot of questions,” Sherlin said. “Ask ‘Do students typically graduate in four years?’ ‘Am I going to be in the library doing research every night?’ ‘Are there opportunities to do internships?’”

She said it also is appropriate to ask questions about tuition costs or campus culture. And ag students should ask about opportunities to become involved in research projects through extension services. Also, ask the school about seeing research facilities, barns or labs.

“Don’t just assume they are going to be included in the tours,” Sherlin said. “Always ask, and most schools are happy to accommodate.”


After the visit

The car ride home is a time when many prospective students and their parents discuss what they liked and did not like about a particular school. Sherlin also suggests talking to recent graduates and other alums to gain their perspective. If those conversations spawn questions, then be sure to reach out to admissions representatives by phone, email, or even text and social media.

“We try to make the experience robust and meaningful for students,” Sherlin said. “It can be overwhelming at 16 or 17 years old because you’re hearing a different vocabulary and it’s a different environment from what you’re used to.”

If an interest in the school remains following the visit, K-State’s Hallenbeck recommends reaching out to a school admissions representative who works with students in the area in which the student lives.

“Their job is to be a connection between the institution and you, so leverage their knowledge and build a personal relationship with them,” Hallenbeck said. “As a higher education professional, we find great joy in helping prospective students find their best fit and seeing the spark in a student’s eyes when they connect with a college.”
She also recommends that prospective students keep the business cards of college representatives they meet during campus visits so they can follow up with thank you notes.

“It is a simple way to leave a big impact,” Hallenbeck said.

Huff said that if a prospective student comes away interested in a school, they need to promptly research all application deadlines. Often, students do not pay attention to those deadlines and miss important opportunities to apply for admission, aid and scholarships.

She also reminds high school students that while they are on campus they need to remember to pick up an absence excuse note if their school requires one. She also reminds them to make use of their prospective college or university’s admissions website.

“I feel like it is underutilized and there are so many great resources on there,” Huff said. “It really answers a lot of the common questions we receive about deadlines and majors, and it also contains a freshman class profile that can be helpful to students when they are making their decision.”

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