We’ve heard this type of complaint before. Even though there are close to 3,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, they can seem very similar when you have a long string of college visits.
Yes—there are urban, suburban, and rural colleges. There are big, medium, and small colleges. While you’ll see differences from region to region, schools within a region of the US can have a similar feel.
Say you visit four different Big Ten schools. They can all feel fairly similar—large, flagship, research institutions.
The official college visit.
If you attend the official visit, you’ll likely hear a common message. It’s as if they have a template script that they all adjust for their specific campus. You’ll hear about the special dining hall food, the brand-new dorms with private baths, the variety of clubs, the beauty of the campus, and the spaces for students to study and gather. After a few of these, they blend together.
Even with plenty of note-taking, families can get quickly confused. And who can blame you! Attend the official visit, but know there needs to be more than that.
How do colleges really differentiate themselves?
How can you truly tell one from the other to make a targeted list of schools?
In our opinion, the biggest difference can be found by comparing the major program of interest at one school with the similar major at another. What coursework is required? What professors will teach those courses? What opportunities are tied to those majors? What equipment or technology is available?
Although a biology major at ABC College may be very similar to the biology major at XYZ University, some differences may leave a bigger impact on the student.
Let’s use the University of Delaware and their biology major as an example. (We chose this example simply because we like their website.) On their webpage, you can discover that they have over 900 students currently majoring in biology. You can go deeper and discover so much more about the program—who teaches the courses, what graduates are doing now, and what types of facilities support the major. They have lots of details (and more links to explore) about the variety of their programs. In addition, they have a detailed page of research topics and professors. You can see what work is being done in that field. Go further and you can read about the specific majors and minors available. Go even further and get into the weeds of what specific courses a student will take.
Beyond the official college visit.
By going beyond the official college visit, you can gain much more substantial and important information. In addition to the website, we know that a visit with the staff and faculty in a major program is so important. The University of Delaware also recommends this “enhanced visit.” Make sure you get the chance to talk to an academic advisor or faculty member, see labs or facilities, and perhaps sit in on a real class.
If your student is uncertain of what major(s) might be a good fit, take a moment to learn more about Guided Self Assessment. Our personalized, premium service supports students to explore their strengths, interests, skills, and much more to lay the foundation so future major and careers choices are made with confidence and clarity.
Effective college visits?
In the end, it is so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on things that will not prove to be that important in the end, like the dorms, the food options, the layout and beauty of the campus, the university-level statistics and accolades, etc.
A student’s more tangible experiences come from the people they will interact with most (their major professors, their major classmates) and what they can experience related to that learning. As a result, your college visits and research can be more focused on the major and not rely on the marketing presentation of the general visit. With that kind of major-level detail, differences become clearer and the list of 10 or more colleges become easier to sort through. Best of luck, and remember we are always here to answer quick questions.
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