Do you buy a pair of shoes without trying them on? It’s probably not the best idea if you want a really good fit. The same principle should apply when you choose a college. You need to step onto a campus to see whether it fits you.
Those glossy campus brochures featuring smiling students photographed on blue-sky days can help you narrow your choices. The Internet has certainly made it easier for a prospective student to get a sense of whether you might like a particular campus.
Wittenberg University’s Web site, for example, features friendly, knowledgeable student guides leading virtual tours of practically every nook and cranny on the Springfield campus. Heidelberg College in Tiffin has webcams trained on the newly renovated Bareis Hall of Science and a new walkway at the Beeghly Library with images that update every minute. Wilmington College offers 360-degree views of campus facilities.
The University of Dayton Web site features nine student bloggers writing about campus life big and small. Justin, a sophomore from Marion majoring in music education, shares his experience traveling to France — his first time on a plane — as part of the school’s study abroad program. Natalia, a graduate student in communications from Puerto Rico, writes about exams and outings with friends.
These virtual experiences are helpful, but they’re no substitute for the real thing. Think of the summer between your junior and senior year in high school as campus tour season.
Whether you’re considering a college across state or across town, “you really, really, really need to go, and look at the school, and talk to students,” says Dr. Gayle Jackson, who has been leading tours for Fremont City Schools students every spring for 10 years as part of the African-American College Club she founded. “I would not want to go to any school I hadn’t visited. Things may not be what you expect.”
Jackson led a group of 30 middle-school kids on a visit to Oberlin College and Cleveland State University during a short trip across northern Ohio last spring. Along the way, students stopped at Underground Railroad sites and learned about Ohio’s antislavery history. Jackson enriches each of the campus tours with additional educational experiences.
Two years ago, she took a group of high school students to visit the University of Cincinnati and Central State University. Students were able to tour the southern Ohio campuses and interact with college students during lunch in the schools’ cafeterias. “We always try to eat at the schools,” Jackson says. “You can get a better picture of the school by visiting with the students at lunch time.”
But the tour didn’t stop there. The students spent time off campus experiencing the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and meeting minority executives at Fifth Third Bank. The students even got a chance to hold $1 million in their hands.
“It’s really neat to see how these tours change these kids,” says Jackson, who has also led trips to historically black colleges in the South. She complemented those journeys with stops in Selma, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn., to visit sites central to the civil-rights movement.
In an area where only about 30 percent of all students go on to college and where less than 10 percent of the population is black, Jackson believes her annual tour is a way to raise minority students’ awareness and get them excited about educational opportunities.
“Many of them have never seen African-Americans in positions of power, of leadership,” Jackson says. “They don’t see that here. Those here who do go off to college — those who are African-American — do not come back.”
Dazarae Shepherd, a senior at Elyria High School, took a tour of area colleges, including Bowling Green State University, over the summer as part of her school’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). She got to see the classrooms and residence halls and learned of programs at the school, particularly one designed to help students who are undecided about their majors. School officials pointed out that many students, even those who come to college with a determined major, change their minds before they graduate.
“I was relieved. I thought you had to know going in,” Shepherd says. She’s leaning toward psychology, but, “I’m not sure I want to do that for the rest of my life.”
Her experience at BGSU has helped take some of the college-decision pressure off, Shepherd says, and it has made her look at the school much more favorably. Bowling Green is now on her short list of schools. “I wasn’t even going to apply there. My
cousin goes there, and we have totally different personalities, so I didn’t think it would be for me,” she says. “But I went there, and I liked it.”
In addition to the college tours, GEAR UP advisers have helped Shepherd fill out applications, search for scholarships and request fee waivers. GEAR UP also awarded her a grant to attend a weeklong leadership camp at Wright State University in Dayton last summer. The experience convinced her that Wright State isn’t right for her, but she believes the week helped prepare her for college. “I had never been away from home before,” she says. “I think that my freshman year will be hard because I won’t have my mom to tell me to go study for Spanish. Spanish is so hard. It’s so hard to focus, especially when there are shows on. But I think I’m ready.”
Shepherd lives with her mother and her five younger siblings. Although Shepherd’s mother never finished college, she has instilled in her six children the importance of a college education. “It was never an option for us not to go to college,” Shepherd says. “You need to have education to achieve your goals in life.”
But Shepherd admits that she wasn’t quite so goal-oriented during her first two years in high school. She didn’t focus as much on her studies as she should have and hadn’t given much thought to preparing herself for college until her junior year. She found motivation in the form of younger sister Dominique. As a freshman, Dominique signed up for GEAR UP’s college tours and put together a checklist of courses for her entire four years of high school. Dazarae looks to her 15-year-old sister as a role model — “as bad as that may sound,” she says with a laugh. “She’s into college, period.”
Fremont’s Gayle Jackson believes her tours encourage students to dream and provide them direction. “Some of them would not have stepped foot on campus without my college tour,” she says. But she’s quick to point out another factor that should come into play: “Parents should go,” she says. “Parents need to participate. The parents need to be there and see for themselves.”
Just think of it as a throwback to those days when you were a kid and your parents would take you to buy your new school shoes. “Are you sure they fit you right?” your parents would say. After they talked you out of the pair that pinched, the pair that rubbed and the pair that busted the budget, you finally found a pair you could all agree on.
So how can students and parents make the most of a campus tour? After 10 years of leading college tours, Dr. Gayle Jackson has picked up a number of tips:
Keep an open mind. Make a list of six to 10 colleges to consider. Choose ones that offer different kinds of learning environments. You may think you want a small private setting, but you may find yourself drawn to the excitement of a big, bustling public campus.
If there are colleges nearby, even ones you think you would never go to, take a walk around the local campus and talk to students. Sometimes plans change and it’s good to have nearby options. Plus, these easily accessible schools will give you a benchmark for when you visit other colleges.
Before you go, think about what you really want to know. Write down questions you want answered and don’t be afraid to ask them.
Remember that student tour guides are selected by the schools and are there to say good things. If you want to know what campus life will really be like, ask ordinary students. You can find them eating lunch in school cafeterias, walking across campus to class or hanging out in student centers.
Allow enough time on campus to really get a sense of the school.
Time your visit for when students are actually on campus.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Are the grounds well-maintained? Are the buildings clean and kept in good condition? That can tell you a lot about campus safety and a school’s financial security.
Take the time to explore the surrounding community. You‘ll want to get off campus sometime. What is there to do nearby? Are there restaurants? Movie theaters? Hiking trails? Can you get to them without a car?
Q: How does a Montessori education differ from other educational systems?
A: “It has its own curriculum,” says Gordon Mass, head of school at Ruffing Montessori School. “We are certainly a nontraditional, independent school. We do not have a curriculum that is store-bought, in other words, purchased from publishers and textbooks. We are a non-textbook learning approach. Our materials are all designed by Dr. Maria Montessori and then by people who are designing materials to support [this approach] along the way. If you look at a Montessori classroom, you wont see anything traditional whatsoever. You’ll see materials that are there for didactic purposes, concrete purposes and leaning to abstract learning. It really is the philosophy and curriculum that sets us apart.”
Q: How does Andrews School help students adjust to a boarding school atmosphere?
A: “We offer a lot of programming outside of the traditional school day that helps alleviate some of the homesickness that some students — particularly the middle school students who are boarding here — may have when they get here,” says Kristina Dooley, director of admission and marketing at the Andrews School. “We do things like trips to various cultural locations in Cleveland, whether it’s the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Rock Hall, so they can get acclimated to the Cleveland area in addition to getting acclimated to the Andrews environment. About half of our students live on campus here, and of those students, about half of them are international students. We have to do a lot of not only adjusting to living in a school environment, but also living in a completely different country, learning cultures and customs.”
Q: What are the benefits of attending an all-girl school?
A: “I think the benefits are numerous. Some of that revolves around the culture of the school and the environment,” says Sarah Johnston, director of admission and financial aid at Hathaway Brown School. “We have faculty who are keenly aware of how to teach girls. We can look at them as learners and as girls who are developing, and be aware of where they are in that type of development and be responsive to that. It’s also a culture that truly empowers girls, helping them achieve their greatest goals and facing some fears. It’s an environment of safe risk-tasking. Girls in high school, middle school and primary school years sometimes back away from challenges in coed environments. All-girl schools help them take advantage of opportunities in front of them and get past their fears and embrace opportunity.”
Q: How does the kindergarten curriculum at Gilmour Academy differ from a public school curriculum?
A: “The kindergarten curriculum at Gilmour Academy is unique in that it is not geared toward teaching to a test,” says Kimberly Browning, traditional kindergarten teacher at Gilmour Academy. “I have a set of outcomes that I work with the students in achieving, and at the same time, have the ability to create lessons that are personal to each student’s abilities, needs and interests. This past summer, prior to the start of school, I sent a treasure map to my incoming students. They were to indicate three places that they would like to explore this year in kindergarten. On their first day, they placed these maps in a large treasure chest. I then began to create lessons around my student’s expressed desires and curiosity. This way of teaching has not only provided a way to explore our social studies curriculum, but to integrate all other disciplines as well.”
Q: In what ways does the Laurel School instill leadership qualities in its students?
A: “All of our girls can take on a variety of leadership positions. We have girls who are doing science internships at the Cleveland Clinic. Girls aren’t just leading as a captain of a sports team, they lead the Model U.N., they lead speech and debate, they lead in their internships and research assistantships, and in the fields of science and the arts,” says Mary Lisa Geppert, director of admission and financial aid at the Laurel School. “We’re engaged in The National Association of Independent Schools, which selects a small group of schools nationally for the Challenge 20/20 Competition, which is a collaboration with China in the study of water preservation. Our girls take on leadership positions globally with opportunities like that.”
Q: What are the advantages of attending a boarding school versus a private school?
A: “Typically it would be structure, opportunity and relationship building. In a boarding school, since students live here, they are going to have a structured day in terms of classes, in terms of activities and sports to play,” says Sam Corabi, director of admission at Grand River Academy. “There’s going to be time set aside for study with no distraction. Of course, then the opportunity would be to take advantage of all these things we have in place like the structure, the study and the availability of the teachers to succeed. At a boarding school, the teachers live on campus, so they are available in terms of making those relationships and helping the students, whether it’s with academics or something personal.”
Q: How does Western Reserve Academy prepare its students for college?
A: “First and foremost, we provide a very rigorous college curriculum,” says Britt Flanagan, dean of admission at Western Reserve Academy. “In addition, we also do a really fine job of preparing them, not just at the point where they’re beginning to apply, but really having them look ahead and understand what type of coursework is necessary, what they need to do extracurricularly to position themselves well when they get to junior year and start picking schools. We have about 120 students in our senior class, we have a college committee that will compose our school recommendation, we have three people who are doing college guidance for these families, and we have test prep courses available for students.”
Q: What are the benefits of a student attending Tri-C for two years, rather than attending a four-year college immediately?
A: “The largest benefit obviously is the cost differential. The classes also tend to be smaller than public universities,” says Pete Ross, district director for transfer and alternative credit programs at Cuyahoga Community College. “That doesn’t always hold true for private colleges, but then the cost differential is even greater with a private college. You can save about a third of the cost of your total four-year baccalaureate by starting and completing an associate’s degree at a two-year college. I like to say that our professors are more oriented toward teaching. At major universities, there’s a mix between teaching and research. We’re really oriented toward teaching and helping students become students.”
Q: Will LCCC credits transfer to a different college?
A: “Yes. Ohio has several tools in place to help with transfer for students among its public institutions,” says Cindy Kushner, marketing and recruitment specialist at Lorain County Community College. “There’s the state-transfer module, which is a subset of several courses that transfer among the public institutions, as well as what’s called TAGS, which are transfer assurance guides. Another tool that’s been very helpful is Transfer.org, where you can plug in an LCCC course and then click on, say, Bowling Green or Cleveland State, and the comparable course will pop up. Also, the other things that help with that are the accreditation. We’re north-centrally accredited like your other institutions in Ohio, like Cleveland State, Ohio State. The private schools have been quite good to work with, as well, with transfers.”
Q: What is the average age of a Kent State student?
A: “The average age of a first-time freshman on the Kent Campus is 18 years of age. The average age of a Kent State University undergraduate student is 23 years of age,” says Nancy DellaVecchia, director of admissions at Kent State University. “While our primary student population is the recent high school graduate, Kent State also attracts many students who have completed prior college coursework. A variety of ages in the classroom enhances the learning experience for students. We have many student organizations and offices on campus to help students find their niche, including services for adult students, transfer students and commuters. And we encourage students of all ages to take a course or begin to pursue a degree program with us.”
Q: What are the most popular majors at Lake Erie College?
A: “The five most popular majors at Lake Erie College are business administration, education, equine studies, biology and psychology,” says Paul Belanger, vice president of academic affairs and dean of Lake Erie College. “We also offer students the option to design an individualized major. With the addition of football to campus this fall, we anticipate that sports-related majors, such as sports management, will gain in popularity.”
Q: How would you describe the campus housing at Cleveland State University?
A: “College students who live on or near campus benefit in many ways from the proximity,” says Brian Johnston, director of marketing and public affairs at Cleveland State University. “These students have higher grade point averages, are more likely to stay in school and graduate, and often excel in extracurricular activities, leadership and athletics. Campus housing at Cleveland State University is among the finest — if not the finest — you will find anywhere. Newly opened Fenn Tower is a magnificent showplace of restored 1920s art deco splendor, and now home to 450 students. Roomy suites with all the comforts of home and more are the norm at both Fenn Tower and our second student residence, Viking Hall, as well as fully furnished units, great on-campus locations, game rooms, high-speed Internet, cable TV, fitness centers and more.”
Q: What would you say is the most comprehensive major at Baldwin-Wallace?
A: “Our neuroscience program. That probably wouldn’t come to mind when you think of B-W,” says Susan Dileno, vice president of enrollment management at Baldwin-Wallace College. “It’s an interdisciplinary program between biology, chemistry and psychology. Our students are very involved with research from the very beginning. We even have a rat lab on campus. It’s been very successful in terms of placement of its graduates. They’ve had such great opportunities while they’re here. We had a student doing medical research at Duke over the summer, for example. Upon graduation they’ve gotten into top-notch Ph.D. and medical school programs.”
Q: What’s the best aspect of attending The University of Akron?
A: “There are many. The exceptional academic program, the national-rating recognition and accreditation, for many of the programs, and the campus facilities. We’ve just finished a $300 million rebuilding campaign on campus,” says Diane Raybuck, director of admissions at The University of Akron. “We have a brand-new recreation center — it’s one of the largest in Ohio with over 200,000 square feet — a brand-new student union building with a two-story Starbucks café, bowling alley and billiards room. In terms of parking, we don’t restrict freshmen from having cars on campus currently. Students can park, which is unusual for a metropolitan setting. If they live on campus, they can park on campus. It’s a very vibrant environment. When the students come to campus, they really enjoy it.” n