Talking travel with college admissions guru Katherine Cohen

Katherine Cohen is a former reader at Yale’s admissions office, founder of a admissions counseling service, Applywise, and author of two bestsellers about college admissions: The Truth About Getting In and Rock Hard Apps. As the summer season gets into high swing, she’s here to talk about planning college tours as part of a roadtrip.

Given the skyrocketing gas prices, why should students and their families bother with campus visits?

A campus visit will let you know if the college is the right place for you. You will be able to watch students interact with each other, their teachers and the local community. Also, you’ll be able to “imagine yourself” there– walking between classes and taking advantage of unique academic and social opportunities. Moreover, visiting a college shows the admissions office that you are serious about attending their school. The visit alone can help your chances for admission.

In light of increasing traveling costs, it is okay for students not to visit all the colleges that they are interested in. However, they should try to visit their top two or three choices, or visit colleges that are very different. For example, if you are interested in attending a small liberal arts college, you should try to visit at least one to see what life is like in that kind of environment. Only after your visit will you know if being on an intimate campus is right for you.
What’s the best time to schedule visits? Aren’t campuses mostly empty during the summer?

The best time to visit a college is during the school year, so you get to see the campus alive with action. Many campuses have open houses during the academic year, so try to take advantage of those when you can. It is important not to miss school days, however. If you can’t visit a campus during a weekend, then take advantage of your school holidays and breaks.

Summer is only a good time to visit if it is the only convenient time for you and your family. Sometimes you need several days to visit multiple college campuses (although I do not recommend visiting more than two in one day). Many use their family vacations to tour colleges, allowing younger siblings and parents to experience the campus as well. In addition, some colleges schedule on-campus interviews during the summer.

Yet, the quiet summer months don’t really show how vibrant a college’s campus life is. Furthermore, you’ll rarely have the opportunity to meet with current students and faculty. Moreover, the campus tours and information sessions tend to be very crowded, especially on Monday and Friday mornings, so you may not get to ask all the questions you have prepared.

Do college visits help your chances of admissions? If so, how much of a boost is it?

Many campuses (remember, there are more than 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States) note if you have visited campus, taken the tour and attended an information session. Making this effort to visit lets the college know you are a serious applicant and have done research to learn more about the school. However, for campuses that receive a large number of applications, campus visits may not play a significant role in affecting the admissions committee’s decision.

On the other hand, a campus visit helps you present a stronger application. You’ll be able to speak about your campus visit and mention specific facilities, programs and individuals, which will help convince the admissions committee that you deserve a letter of acceptance.

Are road trips to see colleges clustered in a region, like the Northwest, still feasible for families on a budget? What are some tips to make it cost-effective?

Absolutely! Take advantage of low-cost travel options. For example, in the Northeast, you can easily visit colleges using trains and buses. Also, families can find cheaper (and fun) accommodations like campsites to save money. Another option is for families to travel together-carpooling and sharing expenses will not only be great on your wallet, but for the environment. Finally, not many people know that there is on-campus housing for visitors. Not only will you save money, but you’ll be able to stay at a real residence hall and experience campus life. Be forewarned though-you might need to bring your own fan to stay cool.

The best way to save money is to do research beforehand. Don’t visit schools that you are not serious about. Schedule your day so you are using your time wisely. Find budget places where students eat, or pack a picnic lunch. Finally, visit schools that are close together. The more efficient you are with your time, the more money you will save.