Rethinking the Campus Visit

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Campus visits often play an influential role in a student’s enrollment decision, but one clinical psychologist is questioning whether teens rely too heavily on their initial impressions when selecting a college.

“If we are making a decision we haven’t made before (such as where to go to college) then our present selves must rely on imagination, instead of experience,” Erica Reischer writes in a recent New York Times op-ed. “…Visiting the campus — to take a tour, meet students, get the lay of the land — seems like a prerequisite to making a good decision. But visiting a college is not the same as being a student there, and this distinction matters a lot, because of the many ways in which our imagination misleads us.”

After all, imagination as a decision-making tool is “inherently flawed,” notes Reischer, who is also an author and parent educator.

“It necessarily omits significant details, while filling in gaps and leaving out other features in such a way that we don’t notice what we’ve made up or what is missing,” she explains.

Instead, Reischer suggests students speak with “experience surrogates” — current students or recent grads who have already completed the college selection process. And instead of seeking information to support what they think they know about a school, college-bound teens should seek insight about students’ actual experiences.

Reischer says good conversation-starters include:

  • Why did you consider attending this school?
  • Are you happy to be here?
  • Knowing what you know now, would you make the same choice?
  • Would someone like me be happy at this school?

Read the full article and check out NACAC’s campus tour checklist.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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