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Are college visits necessary for the Why ___ essays?

Echelon32Echelon32 Registered User Posts: 759 Member
edited July 2008 in Parents Forum
I'm the first in my family to go through this process, and my parents aren't too sure about the necessity of college visits. Hopefully some outside parental advice would help in my decision.

I'm thinking about going to the East Coast to visit HYPM and Penn. However, the downsides to this is 1) this would be during the summer when class is out and 2) it would cost a few thousand dollars. I will be applying to these schools anyway, so the visit would really only help me get a feel for the environment and possibly help me in my essay writings. Undoubtedly I will research these schools prior to writing, but the question becomes, should I spend the money to visit them?

It's my understanding that college visits prior to admissions are usually to help get some questions answered and possibly narrow down your list. But with the internet and such, it seems like I can get almost everything I need to have answered from the comfort of my room. Is that intangible factor of environment/appearance/the reality of the visit that crucial to writing successful essays? I don't know if that $2-3k is worth it just to boost a 300 word essay (I'm probably applying Yale SCEA, which has a Why Yale short answer)

I think it would be more prudent to visit the colleges I do get accepted to in April, and help narrow down my decision then. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Post edited by Echelon32 on

Replies to: Are college visits necessary for the Why ___ essays?

  • siliconvalleymomsiliconvalleymom Registered User Posts: 4,461 Senior Member
    Have you tried to write draft essays that address that question?
    It might be an interesting exercise for you...there needs to be an answer other than the ranking or general reputation of the schools.

    In taking my younger sister on a college tour, Penn is one of the schools that she loved on paper and hated in reality.
  • carolyncarolyn Registered User Posts: 7,435 Senior Member
    No, a college visit isn't absolutely necessary to write a good "why this school?" essay, but a solid understanding of why you and the school are a match for each other IS definitely a necessity.

    Many colleges these days are taking "demonstrated interest" into account when making admissions decisions. Although it plays a small part in the decision, it can be a deciding factor at some colleges. However, the Ivies generally don't track visits or demonstrated interest. On the other hand, they WILL still expect you to have a good understanding of why you and the school are a match for each other.

    While it is not absolutely necessary to visit, it is a good idea to establish some sort of contact beyond checking out the website and reading brochures. Most of the Ivy schools send admissions reps on travel throughout the US and abroad, so you might check to see what their schedules are, and if they will be in your area, attend one of their presentations. That should give you a chance to ask questions, pinpoint why you really are a match for certain schools, etc.

    So, if you absolutely can't visit, don't drive yourself crazy with worry. But do make some sort of contact if you can, if only to help you decide if a school is really right for you based on something besides the brochures and websites. Good luck!
  • carolyncarolyn Registered User Posts: 7,435 Senior Member
    PS, in terms of writing those "why this school?" essays, here's a quick tip: after you have written the essay, try substituting the name of a different college. If you can read the essay and it still mostly makes sense, then you haven't really answered the "Why this school?" question yet.

    The worst "Why this college?" essays are the ones that say something along the lines of "I want to go to XYZ university because it is PRESTIGIOUS, WORLD-FAMOUS, A TOP SCHOOL, TOP RANKED, HAS A BEAUTIFUL CAMPUS, or HAS GREAT ACADEMICS." Schools like Yale know all of that about themselves already, and you're not saying anything that lets them learn about YOU. You have 300 words. 300 words CAN make a difference if used wisely. Don't waste a single word on phrases that 98% of other applicants will also use.
  • menloparkmommenloparkmom Registered User Posts: 12,915 Senior Member
    Just to add to Carolyn's wise words above- use any "why___" essay to spell out why you are a match for the college you are applying to. Don't make the mistake of repeating information that can already be found elsewhere in your application[ stats, grades, list of EC's etc]. Use the essay to tell the admissions officers something new about yourself . If you are applying to Yale and you have a true passion for Art History, do in depth research about the Art History dept so you can mention your enthusiasm with taking classes from one of Yales noted professors, just as an example.
    But remember that the most competative colleges HYPS have 10 times the number of highly qualified applicants than they have room for, so even if they were to "pull admitted students names out of a hat" they would still end up with a great class. That is one reason they don't care how much you want to go there- they have 9 other students who could take your place.
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 32,045 Senior Member
    Mathson applied to eight colleges and there were no why this college essays on any of the applications. I do think you can find what you need by perusing the college websites. Look beyond the obvious - find student blogs, look at course catalogs and the like.
  • fireandrainfireandrain Registered User Posts: 4,738 Senior Member
    Yes, it may be easier to write those essays if you've visited. But if you live far away, the colleges don't expect you to visit. Also, a summer visit really won't help you much in writing those essays, since there are no students or faculty to see or classes to sit it on. Most college websites have virtual tours that you can take.

    The schools you mentioned are reaches for everyone, and they don't track visitors. However, many of the schools that may become your safeties and matches DO care about their applicants showing interest and visiting (unless you live in California and are using state schools as your safeties and matches). It might be more important to visit them than HYPM.
  • LongPrimeLongPrime - Posts: 5,208 Senior Member
    S did virtual visits in the time we had dialup 56K, 2001. He probably did a better i-visit on highspeed internet during one of his high school classes. He and I would agree with your assessment on the value of a visit.

    He knew what he wanted from the schools that he applied to and got into those schools that could give me that training. He applied but was not accepted into any of the Ivys+Stanford.
  • EMM1EMM1 Registered User Posts: 2,583 Senior Member
    My view (which I understand is not shared by many on CC) is that college visits before admission are a complete waste of time and money. Within a very broad range, the quality of a college experience depend on things that you can never tell from a visit, such as who you are likely to meet.
  • Echelon32Echelon32 Registered User Posts: 759 Member
    Thanks for the responses so far. Any others?
  • theocmomtheocmom Registered User Posts: 182 Junior Member
    You might want to decide after you attend a "road tour" presentation where you can hear a few of them present together. I know Upenn and Columbia used to do that with Duke and a couple of other schools.

    I would certainly heed Carolyn's advice about being specific in your why essay, this was something my d did and it was very successful (although she was not applying to any ivys).
  • philly_guy2philly_guy2 Registered User Posts: 10 New Member
    If money and time are issues, as they are for most, it is much better to do your research from the comfort of home. With the internet and chatrooms and such, you can learn plenty from home. It is much more interesting to visit places like HYPS after you have been accepted. Then have these really cool pre-frosh weekends to try to sell the place to you. If you visit before being accepted, you are basically a tourist.

    Having said this, there is something to be said for visiting some college campuses close to home that you can see in a day trip. If you haven't been to many college campuses this might be a good idea just to get a sense of what kind of school you might like. Maybe there is a quality LAC nearby. You might look at that to get a sense of whether or not a LAC is right for you. Or take a tour of the preeminent research university in your area. Then when you are looking at the internet tours of some far away places, you might know more what to look for. Going to admissions meetings is useful because you hear questions from other students and you may learn about considerations you never thought of.

    Absolutely, in the "why such and such" essay you need to be specific. Good to talk about specific programs at the University that appeal to you and are unique to such and such. It is much better use of time to spend two days researching a university (including picking up information at CC) to do a good job on the "why such and such" essay than to spend two days travelling to a campus to take a one-hour campus tour.
  • originaloogoriginaloog Registered User Posts: 2,645 Senior Member
    Our son had to write only one "Why_____?" essay for his Oberlin College application. Our visit was so extraordinary that it made his essay exceptional imho and easy to write. An example of what we observed on that one day-students dressed in "kilts" and painted blue for a Bravehart reinactment, a ska band playing on the logia of the student union, the bike co-op, etc.
  • gadadgadad Registered User Posts: 7,772 Senior Member
    Good advice from Carolyn, as always. If there's something unusual that makes you stand out from other applicants, this essay is a good place to highlight it. For instance, my D2's HS foreign language was Arabic and she wanted to continue studying it in college. There were other good reasons for her to be interested in the schools to which she applied, but that one was not only an unusual answer, it was one for which the goodness-of-fit with the college was evident.

    BTW, just like SVmom's sister, my D2 loved Penn on paper and didn't like it in person. I don't know if that's a common response? She thought she wanted an urban environment and once she got there said "well, not THAT urban."
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