Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing

By Beth Houser on September 18, 2013
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After narrowing down colleges to several selections, the typical high school senior prepares for his or her college visit process. What’s needed for such visits? Comfortable shoes? A camera? Surprisingly enough, for today’s prospective students, nothing is necessary except Internet access. With the increasing popularity of Web sites like youniversitytv.com, college tours can be just a few clicks away. Though this trend seems like a savvy way to save time and money, many still argue that online tools are no comparison to actual college visit experiences.

“If you take off the labels of any college viewbook or advertisement, you’re left with generic smiling people,” Kristen Dickerson, Assistant Director of Admissions at Ohio Northern University, said. “When prospective students arrive on a college campus, they get to see if the ads actually match up.”

On a typical campus visit, prospective students meet with an admissions representative to discuss academic programs and scholarship opportunities. Visitors are also commonly offered full campus tours of freshman residence halls, libraries, student lounges, recreation centers, and typical classrooms, as well as performing arts centers and chapels, if applicable. Many schools even set up meetings with faculty members from prospective students’ probable majors, as well as with sports coaches or music/theatre directors if those are areas of interest for the prospective. Prospective students and their parents also typically have lunch in the colleges’ dining halls, many times with current students from the college.

“This past spring I went to Otterbein College for a student day,” Bucyrus High School senior Sabrina Kohls said. “I got to eat the food, tour the campus, and go to several workshops about the application process, financial aid, and choosing a major. I thought the day was really helpful, and I got a feel for the campus by actually visiting. If more schools did that, I think more students would attend.”

Considering the impact a campus visit has on a prospective student’s college decision, colleges are going above and beyond to ensure that students step foot on campus. According to Dickerson, in the past few years, Northern has participated in the Catch-A-Ride program with funding provided by an Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges (OFIC) grant. Catch-A-Ride works with high schools in major cities in Ohio, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton, to provide transportation for interested students to visit campus. Additionally, universities host post-secondary classes throughout the year for high school students, as well as leadership and sports camps on campus during summer breaks. On top of that, schools even offer overnight programs, allowing visitors to shadow current students.

“These are all great resources for colleges because students have a chance to really get an idea of what the campus and college life are like through an extended-stay experience,” Dickerson said.

Still, in order to be a competitor, universities must stand out in the vast sea of online profiles. According to Dickerson, with 20-25 percent of the 2010 new students from out of state, ONU depends on web site tools to draw in students. Many schools feature student blogs, where current students of various majors and backgrounds provide regular updates as they progress through their experience at the school. Schools also use the web to participate in virtual college fairs like those found at CollegeWeekLive.com. There, live streaming videos of admissions experts, interactive question-and-answer sessions, and virtual college booths help schools broadcast their attractive qualities for students across the nation.

While prospective students learn from online tools, it’s important for them to realize that their own high schools want to aid the process, as well. In some states, students participate in career prep programs as early as the eighth grade to make sure they find the right post-high-school situation. In Ohio, for instance, the Ohio Career Information System (OCIS) matches students with colleges offering programs related to their career interests.

Despite all the wonderful Internet tools and school-facilitated resources, even secondary education professionals stand by the importance of an in-person visit above all.

“In my opinion, there is no substitute for the real thing,” Bucyrus High School Dean of Students Jay Dennison said. “There is a certain ambience that one gets from physically being on campus. Honestly, it just comes down to asking, ‘Does it feel right?’”


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