Here’s what you need to know to make the most out of your visit to universities throughout North America.
Plan your schedule in advance. Before you visit, ask the admissions office if the school offers information sessions, lunch with undergrads, interviews, and/or panel presentations for prospective students. Also ask for an opportunity to talk with a professor, observe a class, meet a coach, or visit Hillel. If possible, plan to spend at least half a day on each campus. And arrange to speak to Reform students about campus life.
Take the admissions tour—and your own tour. You’ll notice that some people walk up front, absorbing the guide’s every word; others linger near the back and chat. It’s best to do both. Listen carefully and actively participate in the experience. Also leave time to wander around and revisit places of special interest to you.
Talk to random people. Ask a couple of students how much time they spend in the library, and what they like most/least about the school. Ask a professor what he/she likes about teaching at the school, and how much homework you can expect.
Read the bulletin boards. Are there flyers for Jewish holiday celebrations and other social events you might like to attend?
Sit in on a class. You’ll get a taste of “college life,” and you can also evaluate the size, setup, faculty interaction, and level of intellectual discourse in the classroom.
Hang out with Jewish students. Tour the Hillel building and try to meet with the rabbi or staff. If possible, have lunch at a dining center that serves kosher food and drop by the Jewish fraternity/sorority houses.
Take photos. They’ll help you keep the highlights of your visit fresh in your memory.
Keep a school journal. After your visit, jot down your impressions. Do the size and location feel right? Is the student body diverse? Is there enough of a “campus” for you? Will it be easy to meet other Jewish students? If you’re not the journal-writing type, make two lists: 10 things you liked and 10 things you didn’t like about the school. As you continue the search process, you’ll see themes in your notes (smaller or larger classes, 18th-century or modern architecture, healthy or hamburger-heavy cafeteria choices…), which will help you find the best fit.
Decide what’s important. You can’t learn everything about a college in just a few hours. So focus on the big picture—like the questions above—and ask yourself: Can I picture myself here? If the answer’s yes, start thinking about that application…!
—Sherri Geller, associate director of College Counseling
at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts
and a member of the Board of Directors of the
National Association for College Admission Counseling