Talking travel with college admissions guru Katherine Cohen (part 2)

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.

Read part 1 here.

What are your top five travel itineraries for visits?

Initially, students are interested in a college because of its location or academic offerings-Here are some themed itineraries that cater to those interests.

1. Boston Tour-

If you want a research university, you and your family can easily take the T (don’t call it a train or subway) to visit Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Tufts, Northeastern and Boston College.

If you are looking for a smaller school or one with a unique academic focus, you’ll find the following schools in the Boston area appealing: Lesley University, Emerson College, Wheelock College, Simmons College (for women) Wentworth Institute of Technology and Suffolk University.
2. “Training” through the Ivy League

Many colleges do not let students have cars on campus, so visiting these campuses by public transportation is a great way to travel as students do. You’ll save money on gas and tolls as well as the headache of being stuck in traffic if you take Amtrak to and from Boston to Philadelphia. On this route, you can visit Harvard, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania quite easily.

3. The Virginia Vacation Road Trip

Families who are looking to combine vacation time and visiting colleges will love this itinerary. You can start or end in either Appalachian Mountains or Virginia Beach–the choice is yours. Take I-64 to visit Washington and Lee University (Lexington,) University of Virginia (Charlottesville,) University of Richmond, and the College of William & Mary (Williamsburg) and Old Dominion University (Norfolk).

4. Midwest Swing

This itinerary gives you the opportunity to see the differences between public and private, urban and rural, and parochial and non-sectarian colleges. Start in Chicago, where you can visit the University of Chicago, DePaul, and Northwestern. Then, head north to visit Marquette in Milwaukee. Go west to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and on your way back to Chicago, visit Beloit in Wisconsin, or Wheaton College in Chicago’s western suburbs. After this visit, you’ll know what type of college best meets your academic and social needs.

5. Pennsylvania Liberal Arts College Tour

Although New England is known for its small colleges, liberal arts institutions in eastern Pennsylvania are closer to one another, ideal for visiting multiple, similar campuses. All these schools are less than an hour and a half drive from Philadelphia. Do your research when choosing which liberal arts college you want to visit. You could easily spend a week (or more) finding the distinctions between these campuses: Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr (for women) Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Dickinson, Ursinus, Muhlenberg, Lehigh, Moravian, and Lafayette.

What are your favorite colleges in terms of “travel destinations”?

Water and mountains really win me over. Pepperdine University in Malibu and the University of California in Santa Barbara have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The University of Colorado at Boulder is set on the backdrop of the Flatirons of the Rocky Mountains-there is great skiing and snowboarding nearby. Finally, I love visiting Vermont, not only for the winter sports. You can tour Middlebury, the University of Vermont, Bennington and the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Vermont is bucolic and beautiful in all seasons.

What’s the ideal one-day itinerary to catch in some sights of New York and see its colleges?

Columbia, NYU, The Cooper Union, The New School. Four very different universities located in one very happening city.

Begin your day at 116th Street and Broadway with a tour of Columbia’s neoclassical campus, shockingly green and neatly enclosed within Morningside Heights, a neighbor to one of the city’s most vibrant communities, Harlem. As one of the oldest universities in the country, Columbia is full of history, so be sure to interrogate your tour guide with questions on the Manhattan Project and the school’s Core Curriculum. Student discounts are available for Broadway shows or Carnegie Hall performances. But if you want a greener afternoon, picnic on a modest piece of Central Park’s 843 acres before taking a stroll by 5th Avenue’s shopping landmarks, such as FAO Schwartz and Tiffany’s.

Now that you’ve had your uptown fun, travel downtown to Washington Square within Greenwich Village, a neighborhood teaming with NYU students. Unlike Columbia, this campus has no distinct border; the best clue you’ll have to distinguish between NYU buildings and the Gap next door (besides the mannequins in the storefront) is a violet flag with a white torch perched outside the university’s buildings. Be sure to visit the school of your choice. The Stern School of Business and the Tisch School of the Arts, both among the very best in their respective fields, couldn’t be more different. Before you rest your weary bones on the Washington Square fountain, swing by Mamoun’s for the very best falafel in the city. If you’re in need of an energy boost, grab some bubble tea in Chinatown or stop by a cafe sandwiched between the many boutiques of SoHo’s side streets.

NYU’s great size masks two other worthwhile schools in lower Manhattan: The Cooper Union and The New School. The Cooper Union begins just east of Greenwich Village at Astor Place. If you have a difficult time finding the place, look for the large Tony Rosenthal sculpture popularly referred to as “The Cube” and its strategic placement between three Starbucks cafes. If you just can’t decide between the three, try a local favorite, The Mud Truck.

To the north of NYU, you’ll find The New School. Much like NYU, The New School is a conglomerate of colleges scattered throughout Manhattan. Just south of Union Square at 5th Avenue and 13th, you’ll find The Parsons’ School of Design, home of Project Runway. But if it’s a small liberal arts environment you want, check out Eugene Lang College (on 13th between 5th and 6th Avenue). Virtuosi, however, must visit Mannes School for Music (uptown at West 85th) for a glimpse at the university’s top notch classical training.

You’re bound to be starving after all this walking, so round the corner onto 6th Avenue and pick up some dollar hot dogs at Grey’s Papaya. If you don’t mind walking a few steps further, wander down Bleeker Street to John’s pizza. There’s nothing finer than treating yourself to the best pizza in New York, promptly followed by the best cupcakes – which you’ll find a few blocks down at Magnolia Bakery. If you’re still college hungry, The Fashi
on Institute of Technology and Julliard are certainly worth investigating.

What resources would you recommend to learn more about visiting colleges on a budget?

The cost of applying and visiting colleges can really add up. Go to to sit down and plan your expenses (you can also download a free tour checklist). Secondly, do your research. Talk to your teachers, counselors, friends and relatives and find out if they are planning trips to areas of the country where you want to visit colleges. You can carpool or find ways that your parents do not need to take a day off to accompany you on college visits. Finally, ask an admissions officer. Some colleges are able to subsidize your campus visit if you meet certain criteria. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.