Feel the Love: 5 Tips for Acing Your Spring Break College Tour

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What’s the best way to find out what a college is really like?

You can scope out schools that suit you with high-tech resources like Edupath’s mobile College Explorer (available free with Edupath’s SAT test prep app). You can take virtual tours of campuses, pore over faculty resumes, and study students’ “why this school rocks” statements until the cows come home. (Yes, cows do keep notoriously late hours).

But despite the wealth of information available online, most of us make life’s Big Decisions based on gut feelings, not on facts and figures.

And for many high school students, the feel of a college—the look, the locale, the way people drop their R’s or talk through their noses, even the aroma of the place (magnolia? French fries? tobacco?)—is what turns a vague interest into a fierce passion. Or, of course, the opposite.

Any college visit is better than no college visit. After all, you can’t find out whether you and Sounds-Good U have great chemistry if you never get within orbiting distance. But to get the most out of your time on campus, invest a little before-travel time in the following five simple tasks.

18 METRO MAP

 1. Map Out Your Trip

For an exploratory college visit–the kind typically made by high school juniors during spring break–the stakes are low, and the ways to approach the experience are varied. You could:

  • Focus on colleges in just one city or region

  • Check out whichever colleges interest you the most, even if they’re far-flung

  • Sign up with professional providers for a packaged group tour (google “College Tours” to find trips of this type)

  • Stay at home, and tour colleges in or near your town

Whatever your strategy, experts say it’s best to limit college visits to two a day. You don’t want to wind up with your head swimming, your feet aching, and distinctly non-SAT vocabulary words exploding out of your mouth.

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2. Yoo Hoo, It’s Me: Contact Colleges Before You Tour

Nothing says you can’t scope out a campus on your own. In fact, you should! More about this in a minute. But start–especially at bigger schools–by taking advantage of official guidance. Almost all colleges offer (1) an information session with admissions staff and (2) a campus tour led by current college students.

You can expect to spend between one and three hours, total, attending the information session and taking the college-provided campus tour.

Visit the school’s website to find out how to register for these standard offerings. Usually you’ll be directed to an online sign-up form or a phone number.

 Other freebies that a college can help you arrange:

  • An interview with admissions staff

  • Touring a specific department

  • Attending a class

  • Talking to a professor

  • Talking to a coach

  • Spending the night in a dorm (usually for high school seniors only)

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3. Make It Your Mission to Snoop

Unlike standardized tests and application essays, the exploratory college tour is all about what you want to know about a college, not what a college wants to know about you. On any campus, take time after the official programming to get the vibe of the following:

  • Student center

  • Main library and other libraries

  • Student bookstore

  • Sports facilities

  • Dining halls

  • Student newspaper

  • Posters, flyers, advertisements

  • Office of undergraduate admissions (while you’re there, you might as well say hi to the staff and tell them your name)

And especially, check out the students. Do people look interesting to you? Where is everybody hanging out? What are they eating? Where are they studying? Oh, and by the way–this is a college tour, after all–how much are they studying?

4. Nab a Notebook

To make the most of your tour, take on-the-spot notes. Bring a notebook for this purpose, or use a digital device–whatever is most comfortable. It’s also smart to snap a few photos here and there. An image of a crowded bike rack, students sunbathing on a dormitory roof, or the sculpture garden in the center of campus will help you remember details you might otherwise forget.

Believe it or not, this material will come in handy just a few months down the road. Many colleges, as you’ll soon discover, require applicants to write a short essay about why they want to attend that particular school, and “Just because I do” is not going to catapult your application to the top of the heap. Referring back to your notes on the cozy study areas in the library, the friendliness of the professor who stopped to give you directions, or the intriguing internships described by three random students will provide the kind of interesting and convincing detail that colleges like to see.

5. Pack for Maximum Impact

Unless you’re bringing a sherpa, you’ll be doing a lot of luggage-hefting over the course of a several-day college tour. Pack accordingly (think Zen monk, not compulsive hoarder).

  • Check the weather report for the area(s) you’re visiting. Will you need a below-zero parka or a fold-up umbrella? Flannel-lined jeans or walking shorts?

  • When in doubt, choose clothes that are comfortable, casual (but not tacky or tattered), and clean. Note: “casual” means one thing at a performing arts college, quite another at West Point.

  • Chances are, you won’t be touring all those acres of libraries, dining halls, and tennis courts while glamorously perched atop a royal elephant. Shoes you can actually walk (and walk and walk) in are a must. Save the steep platforms and thigh-high lace-ups for more sedentary situations.

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” wrote the novelist Kurt Vonnegut (who, back in the day, may or may not have gone on a pre-college tour of his alma mater, Cornell). And just like a beginning tango or salsa class, a spring break college tour is likely to leave you exhausted from exertion–but exhilarated by the way your horizons have suddenly expanded.

Now go on, get out of town.

 

In April, featured blogger Autumn Stephens will report on a real live spring break tour with a real live high school junior.

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Countdown to the SAT: Your Guide to Sanity

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What are you doing Saturday morning, March 8? If you’re reading this post, chances are that you, like hundreds of thousands of other high school students, will be taking the SAT.

If you’re a human being – and we’re betting you are – it’s only natural to feel a little anxious. Or, okay, a lot.

But fretting and sweating won’t do a thing to spike your SAT scores. Nor will a big bout of last-minute studying. Here’s what to do instead so you sail into the test feeling confident and at the top of your game.

FRIDAY NIGHT

1. Put Your Mind at Rest

Take a page from the playbook of champion athletes, who know they’ll perform better if they relax in the final hours before a competition.

Last year, Diana Nyad became the first person to make the grueling 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. The night before, she ate an early dinner (pasta with garlic and olive oil). Then she put on her pajamas and did crossword puzzles.

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And just before Olympic snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won gold in Sochi last month, he “was chilling really hard,” he told The Boston Globe. “I was eating mad snacks. Chocolate. Onion rings. Chips.” As a grand finale, he “fell asleep watching ‘Fight Club.’”
The takeaway here? Walk into the SAT – more or less the Olympics of high school – feeling relaxed and rested, not frantically digesting info from a last-minute cram. Watch TV. Listen to music. Hang out (but not too late) with friends. Right now, boosting your mood is the best way to boost your scores.

2. Plan Your Morning… Tonight

The devil is in the details, they say. For a smooth, non-Satanic start tomorrow morning, figure this stuff out tonight.
a. What time does the SAT begin?
b. How will you get there?
c. What time will you leave home? Add half an hour to your estimated travel time in case of unexpected delays.
d. Is someone giving you a ride? If so, make sure they are on board for this trip, and know when you need to leave.

3. Schedule a Three-Alarm Morning

Set your alarm clock for a time that allows you to get dressed and eat breakfast without rushing. Set a back-up alarm as well, just in case. And finally, have someone else in your house set their alarm, too. Make them promise they’ll jump on your bed yelling “Time to rise and shine, you fabulous love lump!” if that’s what it takes to get you going.

4. Get Your Wardrobe in Gear

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Set out each and every item you will wear to the SAT. Hey, this is the perfect day for your lucky underpants.

5. Prep Your Take-to-SAT Kit

Photo ID
Your SAT admission ticket
Two sharpened No. 2 pencils
A calculator with fresh batteries
It’s not required, but you might also want to bring water and snacks for quick energy during breaks.

6. Do Not Pack

Any electronic device, including phones, tablets, cameras, computers, music players, and recording devices. Also, obviously, no weapons. Except, perhaps, your razor-sharp mind.

7. Get Enough Sleep

A rested brain is an alert brain. Enough said.

SATURDAY MORNING

1. Breakfast of Champions

The theme of today’s morning meal: normal, normal, normal. Eat whatever you usually eat. Add something high-protein for endurance if you can. Coffee  drinkers, don’t skip the java – your brain is counting on that caffeine. But if you’ve never sipped anything more stimulating than OJ, don’t even think about that king-size energy drink.

2. Reframe Last-Minute Jitters

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Being nervous is all about the fear that things will go badly. Excitement is a response to the belief that things will go well. Yet we experience both states in a similar way, with butterflies in the stomach, rapid heartbeat, a sense of distraction, and so on. If our own bodies don’t know the difference, why should our minds? Try telling yourself how “excited” you are, reinforcing a sense of positive anticipation rather than one of dread.

3. Put the Test in Perspective

“The person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman,” sociologist William Julius Wilson has noted. “These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, perseverance.”

Yes, it’s true: your entire future does not actually depend on your performance on one short test on one brief Saturday morning of your hopefully extremely long, happy, and successful life.

And besides, if you want to, you can take the SAT again in just a couple of months.

4. Do Not Skip This Important Final Step

Once you’ve finished the test, you’re 100 percent entitled to celebrate. Maybe 101 percent. See, there really is something to be excited about.

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