How valuable is it to visit a school during the application process? Invaluable! While I have always know this and definitely want all my students to visit the schools that they are apply to, most are reluctant to spend the time necessary to actually get on a plane and drive around from one school to another. Though in the short term the time and money spent traveling to schools may seem too costly, ultimately the positive long-term benefits of these visits outweigh the perceived costs.
These ideas hit home for me today while visiting a school in the Northeast. Each school (to remain nameless) offers equally challenging curricula and both are in lovely settings. One school was in a more remote location, comparatively. One school however was more experiential in its approach to education than the other. The opportunities at the latter school seemed more impressive when compared to the opportunities at the more traditional school.
During a conversation over lunch the question of ranking came up. I love this question and based on the schools we visited it was easy to point out the problems with ranking. Each of these schools are in the business of education but when it comes to ranking there is no possible way to quantify the value of what one individual student may experience at one campus versus the other.
Sure, one can ponder over the average SAT scores, college acceptances, and other quantifiable data to make a claim that one school outranks the other. But there is more to education than grades and test scores. This is the one stumbling block that most parents miss. The personal growth that a student can undergo through interacting with an inspirational teacher, participating in an educationally challenging program, or joining a sports team, while not easily quantifiable, can have lasting, positive impacts on one’s child.
One of the other questions that we discussed over lunch was how and if experiential learning opportunities can affect college admissions. Absolutely! While many parents may squawk at learning how to make maple syrup or go camping through the California Sierra Mountains, the combination of academic components in each of the activities brings the science and math one learns in a classroom to life. Let’s take making maple syrup as an example: students learn about the effects of weather, climate, and soil in how and when trees produce the sap of the syrup. The math and chemistry behind cooking the sap to make the syrup helps a student make greater academic connections through real world application. Its also much more fun and memorable to make maple syrup than it is to sit in a classroom.
Visiting a school is a must. It is invaluable to see students walking around the campus and to observe the rapport between peers and faculty. Our two tour guides were well known and obviously well liked. One could sense the community of each school, the growth the students had gone through at each school and the love each had for their soon to be alma mater. Both students were Chinese speakers and offered their experiences – both the positive and challenging experiences each had had on their campuses. More importantly, one could feel the distinct differences between the two places and people – feelings that one cannot experience through just perusing a schools’ website.
So my advice – spend the money, take the time and go, go, go! Go see why ranking is not the only important factor when choosing a school. Go see what makes a school special, go experience the value of community and the excitement students and faculty feel on a day to day basis. It is time and money worth spending.