My rising juniors and seniors know that things are starting to get real. You might be spending the summer visiting the campuses of some of your top-choice schools; you might be in the research stage and—to be candid with each other—you might be a little frozen by what feels like an overwhelming decision. I’d like to share my thoughts on how to make the most out of your time visiting schools.

  1. Make a list of must-haves

After graduation I worked in the wedding industry for years, finding my niche in bridal. (Hang in there, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.) Every day I saw brides coming in already overwhelmed by the multitude of choices in dresses and the lack of knowledge on what they liked. My advice? Start trying them on. I would watch a bride put on a dress and thoughtfully examine the different pieces—maybe she liked the skirt but not the lace. Maybe she liked the silhouette but it didn’t feel like ‘her.’ Once you are able to start narrowing down things that you like or don’t like, it allows you to come onto each campus with an eye out for the factors that are most important to you. Do you want a central green space like Ball Circle? Do you prioritize transportation access or city walkability or a school with a commitment to the environment?


  1. Ask the right questions

As admissions counselors, we are ready to rattle off facts and figures for you. Our website is built to give you the demographic breakdowns, the history, the numbers. We’ve got it all. However, if you went to three campuses in one day—are the facts and figures what you’re going to be thinking about that night when you’re reflecting on your takeaways? Will the final decision come down to what percentage of graduates get summer internships or will it come down to how you felt when you stepped foot on campus? I’m toeing the line into warm and fuzzy feelings talk right now, but I encourage you to pay attention to what you feel when you’re on campus, in the academic buildings or while meeting faculty. Can you picture yourself there?


  1. Talk to current students

No one can give you better insight about life at UMW than someone who is living their life at UMW. I graduated from Mary Wash in 2015, and while I can tell you about the grand old time I had, you can bet things are going to be different for today’s students. If you can chat with someone who is studying in your field of interest—even better!


  1. Look outside

When it comes to choosing a college, make sure you zoom out and look at the big picture. The campus may be everything you dreamed of—but what about its surroundings? Do you want an urban, suburban or rural environment? Does the space around the campus deliver that? What is there to do within walking distance? What stores are available in town for late night ice cream runs? Does the town have any unique traditions?


  1. Make it about you

This is an exciting—sometimes overwhelming—time. Parents, grandparents, mentors and friends are excited to share. I encourage you to check in with yourself after each tour or visit and be honest with yourself about the factors that are most important to you. Remember, come August, it’s you who will be living and learning there.


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