What Is a Campus Holiday?
Image: Peter Barritt/ Corbis
The pre-college timeline is a carefully calibrated creature (see Testing Times). If your son or daughter is looking to start college in Fall 2013 or in 2014, the summer of 2012 is the best time to do the college recce trip. Sachin Shastri will go to college in 2015, but he plans a college visit this summer. “We’re visiting the US for Siddharth’s graduation anyway, so we’ll kill two birds with one stone,” says his mother Sudha Shastri
Other things being equal, though, parents favour the summer of Class XI, when the class X exams have been done with and the long SAT-essays-admissions process has just started. Taking the tests early is useful: The scores allow you to gauge how competitive you are for the colleges of your choice. Plus, it also gives you a chance to re-take the test if you want to improve the scores.
The personal visit can be a clincher during the actual admission process. Besides bringing a sharper focus to the application, the essay on ‘Why I would like to join X college’, for instance, is likely to be more compelling and convincing if you have first-hand experience of the college.
An on-site visit also gives you chance to meet the admissions staff and make a personal impression. Tanvi Gupta, who is studying for her Master’s in Finance at London’s Cass School of Business, feels it was the pre-admission tour to the college that helped her get in. “Counsellors in Mumbai had told me I didn’t have a chance of joining a business school abroad because I had dropped maths three years ago. But I was able to convince the admissions in-charge at Cass that I could cope with the subject,” she says.
To make her case, Tanvi carried her school marksheets from three years ago when she tagged along with her father Rohit Gupta, president at Sony Entertainment Television, on a work-trip to London. The frosty reception at London School of Economics (LSE) made her change her mind about studying there. “Previously, I was like LSE or nothing,” she confesses. “But after meeting the staff at Cass and talking to them, I found myself keen to study there.”
Planning for the trip should begin at least a month in advance. “Read up on the colleges and communicate with the admissions department,” advises educational consultant Arjun Seth. Most colleges conduct pre-admissions tours at specific times, which can be booked online. The interaction includes formal briefings and meeting/interviewing admissions officers.
“Additionally,” says Seth, “seek informal feedback. Plan to eat at least one meal at the college cafeteria, which would also give you an idea of the quality of the food. Visit the library, sit in on a class. Talk to students. Ask them what they like about their college and what they don’t like—it’s surprising what these sort of casual questions can turn up.”
It’s also advisable to visit the dormitories and read the campus paper. Make the time for a drive through the neighbourhood.
Attending briefing session with 50 other parents and their kids and listening to their queries can be an education by itself. “I discovered things I didn’t even know existed,” says Mohyna Srinivasan. “For instance, the suitcase college, where most of the students live a few hours away and so is deserted on weekends.”
For parents willing to spend around Rs. 1 crore to educate a child (without financial aid) in the US, the investment of a few weeks and a few lakhs of rupees for the campus tours is a really a small fraction. Combining the campus trip with an annual vacation makes the trip more economical, as does hiring your own car, staying with relatives wherever possible and, of course, planning in advance.
The time span and the number of colleges to visit depend on individual decisions. Susroni and her family, for instance, visited 20 colleges on both coasts, while Mallika Srinivasan limited her campus visits to 10-12 colleges on the West Coast. “Plan a mix of different colleges—a medium-sized college like Wellesley, a large one like Harvard and a small college like Amherst—to get a sense of the different environments in each institution,” says Seth. “Also try and see colleges in different settings, like NYU or Boston University, which have an urban setting, and Williams, which is in a rural area. Once you have seen these basic categories, you can generalise about the others.”