Katie and I have visited 18 colleges between the two of us in the last week–Stevens, Sarah Lawrence, Fordham, Villanova, Princeton, Penn, Duke, Elon, University of Puget Sound and UNC Chapel Hill (for Katie); University of Minnesota, Macalester, Carleton, St. Olaf, Grinnell, Cornell College (the one in Iowa), UW Madison and Marquette (for me). We didn't travel just to see the schools; she was training counselors in our New York office and I was speaking at conferences. But whenever the Collegewise counselors find ourselves someplace with colleges nearby, we make a quick visit, take a few photos and share our impressions with the rest of the group when we get back.
No one counselor could ever visit all of the over 2000 colleges. But when we collaborate like this, it helps us learn more about schools from each other. I can learn a little bit about a college I've never seen or had a student apply to just by calling one of our counselors who visited it while taking a vacation, or celebrating Thanksgiving with her family, or attending a conference.
I think students should do the same thing. Enter the “College Visit” club.
Imagine 20 members at your school joined a club and agreed that for the next year, each member would commit to visiting five colleges. Each could plan trips to colleges they like, or see schools when they travel for other reasons (like visiting relatives for Thanksgiving), or do a combination of both. The visits don’t necessarily need to be long and involved. You can take the tour, or you can just walk around, smell the air, soak in the atmosphere and take a few photos. Maybe do a quick write up on each school to record your first impressions so you don’t forget.
Then once or twice a quarter, the group could meet to share your college feedback, trade photos and write ups, and maybe answer questions about each of your visits. If 20 members each visited five schools in a year, think how many first-hand reports about colleges you could share between students you know and trust.
Sure, hearing about a college from a friend is not the same as visiting it yourself. But there are far too many colleges to see all of them. And I'd rather hear a friend's impressions than rely on a college's website (which is designed to sell me) or a write-up in a college guidebook (written by someone who doesn’t know me at all).
Bonus tip #1: Share all your write-ups and photos in a blog and tell everyone at school about them. Use the blog to grow the club. Can you imagine how impressed a college would be if you told them that you started the college visit club and oversaw its growth into the largest club at school, a club that’s now posted write-ups and photos of over 100 colleges to a blog that now gets over 5,000 unique visitors a month (not just from your school, but from all over the world)? It wouldn't be that hard. It would help a lot of students. And I'll bet people would really enjoy it. Somebody should do it.
Bonus tip #2—parents, if your kids won't start the club, start the parent version with 4-5 other like-minded parents. Then bring your kids along for the visits.