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Trying to Choose a College? Spend the Night!
Anne Marie Bompart

What’s the logical next step when you’re thinking about applying to a college? Visiting it, of course! Touring the campus can help you get a feel for its environment and students. But even more than a tour, an overnight visit lets you get to know the people and the university on a much more intimate scale. That’s why, in the fall of my senior year, I decided to do an overnight visit at Wesleyan University. I had to call the admissions office, pick a date, and tell them my interests so they could match me with a student who would host me in her dorm. I was also offered an interview, which I eagerly accepted.

I chose to do an overnight because I was considering applying Early Decision (ED) to Wesleyan. The ED process requires you to send your application early and increases your chances for admittance—but it’s binding. If they accept you, you must withdraw all your other applications. So I was understandably hesitant to make the commitment. Whether I did or not rested on how much I enjoyed this visit.

My friends who’d graduated high school last year had told me a little about what college life was like. They said that they enjoyed much more freedom and that there were crazy parties, tons of new people to meet, and a lot of responsibility. I was a little bit nervous that I wouldn’t get along with my host or that I’d be too awkward to make friends. I imagined we would just go to her room, go eat dinner, and then separately attend classes the next day.

When I arrived, a bigger worry replaced all the others: my interview. I had decided to do it as soon as I arrived on campus so I wouldn’t be stressing out over it during my visit. It was my first college interview, so I’d spent some time memorizing answers to some common questions. It turns out I didn’t need to do that. While it’s important to do some basic research on the school, I realized that colleges want to get to know you, not hear some canned response. My interviewer asked me about my school, my leadership qualities, and my academic interests. I felt like I was able to be more honest about myself when I wasn’t reciting a prepared answer.

Dorm Life

Afterwards, my host Sarah picked me up from the office. She was a freshman from Georgia, full of enthusiasm about the university and extremely welcoming. At her dorm, I met her roommate Sophie, who was from California. The rest of her friends soon dropped by—Jason from China who’d taken a gap year and couchsurfed across Europe, Eric who was born in New York but moved to China, Aaron from China, Becca from Barbados, Ankar from Nepal, and Jordan from Los Angeles. After I’d introduced myself to everyone and unpacked my luggage, we headed to dinner.

Once I entered the cafeteria, I was a little overwhelmed at the breadth of choices. The lines weren’t long, but they moved fast, and everyone knew exactly where things were and exactly what they wanted. The food itself was delicious—I had pizza, ice cream, and some broccoli to make myself feel better about those other choices.

Back in the dorm, Aaron and Eric were heading out to play badminton. I came along, teaming up with Eric against two students from Japan. Eric and I lost—badly—but it was still fun! I got to see Wesleyan’s athletic facilities, which were quite extensive for an NCAA Division III school (the lowest sports division). And meeting even more international students was really enlightening. Wesleyan prides itself on its large international population—something I hadn’t known before I visited. Once I encountered such diversity, it made me want to apply even more.

At 9 p.m., all of us convened in Jason’s room to watch the second presidential debate. He set up a projector and streamed it live from YouTube. Whenever our attention faded, I got to know my hosts a little bit better. Sarah mentioned that she could find someone to take me to a party if I wanted to, but I declined. I didn’t want to get caught partying, especially if there were drugs or alcohol present, when I was a prospective student.

Make an Informed Choice

image by YC-Art Dept

The next day, I participated in several classes to see if I was academically prepared for Wesleyan. First I went to Sarah’s 9 a.m. class on the Greek myths of Dionysus, Persephone, and Prometheus. Then I attended two classes I had picked on my own, one on French existentialism and the other on Kafka. They were interesting—the material was completely new and much more advanced than anything I’d ever studied in high school.

After class, Sarah’s friend Jordan gave me a comprehensive tour, pointing out the campus stores, dorms (including the clothing-optional one!), and the few fraternities on campus.

My last class ended at 4 p.m. At 4:20, my father came to pick me up. It was time to say my good-byes. I didn’t want to leave—I was enjoying the independence, the company of the new people I’d met and the enriching classes. High school seemed so juvenile by comparison. On top of that, my doubts about applying ED were completely vanquished. Wesleyan is now absolutely my top choice.

Some might say that a college’s reputation is foremost among the reasons you should apply to it. I disagree. I think what’s most important in choosing a college is whether you can visualize yourself there. There’s nothing quite like stepping onto a campus and knowing you belong. That’s why I advise all students applying to college to visit before they make their final choice, whether ED or regular decision.

Especially if you’re considering applying ED, do an overnight! You may find out that you like it a lot more or a lot less than you originally thought. Staying overnight is free and easy. Google Images is no substitute for your very own eyes. And who knows—maybe you’re missing out on something great and you don’t even realize it.

Can’t do an overnight?

Many schools will host prospective students for an overnight visit—if you’re interested, call the admissions office to make arrangements. But even if you can’t do an overnight on campus, it’s still a good idea to visit the schools you might want to attend. You can take a tour, attend an information session, and get a feel for the campus and the students.

Be on the lookout for college visits run by your school or local community organizations. In New York City, the Options program runs several day trips to nearby schools as well as two overnight trips (students stay in a hotel near the campus) each year. (They also provide help with the rest of the college selection and application process, for free. For more information, call 212-678-4667 or email options@goddard.org)

Rosanne Esposito, director of counseling at Options, says, “A lot of students tend to apply to schools they may only know by name—then when they get to campus they realize they really don’t like the environment. So I think [a visit] is definitely beneficial to helping you decide.”

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