Wednesday, September 11, 2013

All Hail the College Road Warriors

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

We’ve talked about the dos and don’ts of college road trips—basically, anything done by Raven and John Belushi is out, and never do something that would make your mother want to shout.  Another kind of road trip happens when college admissions officers visit your high school.  Knowing that not every student has the time or coin to make it to campus, thousands of college reps put up with rush hour traffic, GPS systems that have never heard of your high school, and rental car agents who say things like “Where is THAT college located?” just to talk to you on your home turf.

College reps aren’t salesmen; they are dream weavers, and their task is to take what they know about their college, apply it to what you know about yourself, and see what kind of tapestry the two of you can create.

Since an expert on a college that might be your next home is coming to town, it’s important to make them feel welcome.  Here’s how:

  • Check with your counselor.  There’s a good chance the college has e-mailed, tweeted, or called to let you know they’re coming, but they might not tell you what time, or where the meeting will occur.  Double check with your counselor.

  • Go directly to the principal’s office.  Your high school might only allow college reps to visit during lunch.  Talk about a good first impression!  What other place in the high school (or for that matter, Dante’s Inferno) has the special ambiance of the cafeteria, where French fry grease, tightly packed student bodies and quietly rotting lunch bags create a bouquet that is nicely complemented by the din of 800 students all talking at the same time?  If this is your school, it’s time to throw a food fit; ask your principal to at least give the rep a conference room where interested students can get something out of the visit.

  • Do your homework.  The night before, hit the Web to visit the college’s site.  Get a flavor for the college’s size, location, and admission requirements, then notice what themes occur on the site—lots of pictures of sports, six pictures of the same tree in full fall foliage, etc.  See if the school’s newspaper has a Web presence, and learn what’s going on at campus.  This way, the rep can slim down the introduction of the college, and answer questions that will personalize the visit for everyone.

  • Bring two questions.  Just like class, you want to use a visit to find out things that aren’t on the Web or in a viewbook, so give some thought to these ahead of time.  Also, make sure they’re phrased in a fact-gathering way:  It’s good to say “Do you plan to offer more science majors?”—not, “Do you plan on improving your science majors?”

  • Fill out an information card, even if you’re on the mailing list.  Reps use this information to show their boss the visit was worthwhile, and it increases the chances they’ll be back next year.  Be selfless.

  • Thank them for coming.  A rep visit isn’t a “thank you note” experience, but a clear, direct “thank you” as you leave makes the long drive and bad hotel food worthwhile.

  • Once you get home, write your impressions down in your college journal.

Like most of the adults involved in your choice of colleges, reps want you to have clear, real information about their college—and the best way to make sure that happens is still face-to-face.  This is more free learning; make the most of it.

(NOTE TO COUNSELORS:  It goes without saying that, if a college rep comes to your building, they automatically get at least 15 minutes with you. Ask them what's new at their school, tell them what's new at your school, use the time to give them a heads up on a student or two-- but make it worth their while.  Colleges have tight budgets too, and they think enough of your school that they're still coming to see you.  The least you could do is say thank you-- this is the best way to do that.)

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