Whether you are thinking about applying to boarding school or university the value of visiting the schools on your list cannot be underestimated. While it may be a challenge to take time away from school, what you will see and experience from the visit will help to solidify your understanding of many important factors – the school’s setting and culture, classroom expectations and the overall vibe of the campus.
One of the reasons this issue is on the radar comes from two recent occurrences. One of my students traveled for ten days, visiting boarding schools and particpating in interviewing. For her the visits helped her make an important set of realizations – from the feel of the campus to the “fit” of the school she was able to gain a better understanding of the schools on her list. While she believed she varied in her interview performance, through visiting the schools she was able to really solidify her list of schools.
Another student went to visit several universities last week. She visited her first choice ED school as well as another university. She came back full of questions that ultimately led her to realize that she had changed her mind about applying ED. This led to the uncomfortable conversation about applying ED to a school when thorough research had not been completed.
Some of what both students experienced on their campus visits were the discrepencies in the interview process and the interviewer among the different schools. Preparing for an interview often does not take into consideration the varying personalities or day-to-day events that can impact an interviewer. Most of the time we expect the interviewer to be interested in the conversation, eager to learn about our attributes, challenges and life experiences. But what if the interviewer is not, does that mean they are not interested in you as a candidate? While it is not appropriate to ask what your interviewer if something is wrong or try various techniques to pull the interviewer in to the conversation, there may be outside reasons why the interview is perceptively not going well.
As an interviewee it is important to remember that interviewers are people too – they have lives outside of their jobs. Perhaps something tragic happened or are concerned from just having recieved unfortunate news. It is possible that the last interview was horrendous. It could also be that you were not prepared for the interview in one-way or another.
Interviews are hard. We want people to appreciate us and value what we have to say. Sometimes there is a connection, sometimes there is not. The one student who visited universities claimed that her interview for an art school did not conform to her expectations. Since she is applying to art school within a more comprehensive university, she was hoping for direct feedback on her portfolio. Instead the interviewer had students complete a project after which the student had a five- minute one-on-one presentation about the project. There was no feedback on her work. Since she had different expectations, she thought the interview had gone poorly. She also mentioned she had a difficult time finding the interview location – no one knew where to go and when they asked, there was no information.
Since this school is highly selective, it could be that the school was disorganized, but it could be that the school was watching how students react to a variety of stressful situations. While it is hard to know exactly what happened, given this third person perspective, it is hard to give any advice. But it is apparent that this student was perhaps not prepared for the unexpected.
Remember, the school is looking to see if you are a good fit just as much as you are trying to see if you fit into the school culture. NYU Abu Dhabi is a prime example of this. They invite their prospective candidates to a visit to their campus. This “test” is very much to see how a student behaves, acts and gets involved. They are looking for students to show their true selves in the process of the visit.
What is the point of all this? Aside being prepared for the unexpected – don’t read too much into the experience. Take an overview of what might be happening. In the case of the boarding student, where she thought the interview didn’t go well, the feedback later was “she was a breathe of fresh air!” In the case of the boarding student, try to view the overall perspective of the school and what they are trying to achieve.
Visiting schools should be a major part of any applicants’ research process, not only for the interview but also to get a sense of the community, the culture and feel of the school. The two-dimensional view from a website cannot compare to the real experience of walking around a campus. But even then, be careful – what you see is what you see. Until you actually attend a school, you will never really understand how you and the school culture will interact. But by all means find out as much as you can about each school before applying. It will be well worth the extra effort.