Many juniors are beginning to devote more attention to their college research and developing a college list. When searching for a place to continue your education, nothing takes the place of a campus visit. Virtual tours and insiders' accounts of campus life are helpful, but as you actually stroll through the campus and see students and faculty in action, you'll be able to get a good feel for each college's atmosphere. Selecting a college is a very personal decision, and you'll need to trust your feelings as to how well that institution fits you. It is the well-executed campus visit that will allow your instincts to accurately predict fit.

After researching a large number of possible college options, you should begin to pare down your list to those schools that truly interest you. The next step is to arrange a visit to each campus on your list. Let the admissions office know when you plan to come; most offer tours and campus information sessions throughout the week. Many also offer a chance to meet with an admissions representative, to sit in on a class, or to meet with a professor in your proposed major. Athletes may wish to talk with a coach in their sport and you can ask to stay overnight.

Be sure to leave time to really get a sense of each school.

â?¢ You'll want to wander the campus on your own and talk with current students (are these people you would want as friends?).

â?¢ Check out kiosks and bulletin boards for a sense of campus events and activities.

â?¢ Eat at a dining hall and tour the library, fitness center and student union. Visits to several different institutions should reveal what "feels right" to you.

Students who truly do the research needed to find the colleges that fit are most likely to have a fulfilling college experience. Significant differences in curriculum exist among colleges and understanding these will help students realize where they can be most successful. Distribution requirements, core curriculum or total freedom of choice? Each college establishes its own course requirements for degree-seeking students. Although colleges tend to be very specific about the classes required for a major, there is generally more flexibility in courses that students select during the first two years of college.

Degree requirements usually relate to the university's mission statement. Institutions that believe that all students need exposure to the great ideas may require that students take specific courses for graduation. For example, Columbia University's goal is to provide all students, regardless of their major, with "wide-ranging perspectives on significant ideas and achievements in literature, philosophy, history, music, art and science." Thus, all Columbia University students have taken Core Curriculum courses since 1919. In addition to these specific classes, students must choose from selections in foreign language, major cultures, science, writing and physical education.

Other colleges have distribution requirements. In this case, students must select classes from choices offered in each of the divisions of learning. Thus, students at Dickenson College, for example, select a minimum of two classes each from arts and humanities, the social sciences and the laboratory sciences. In this way, students are exposed to a variety of ideas other than those presented by their major. Hampshire College allows students to design academic programs encompassing several disciplines or choose to study a single field in depth. Additionally, Brown University does not to require general course requirements. According to Brown's Website, undergraduates at Brown are "encouraged to pursue their intellectual interests, choosing among more than 2,000 academic courses" rather than follow a college-imposed core curriculum."

In selecting a college consider degree requirements. If you are the type of student who eagerly seeks out new ideas and thoughts, college-required courses may be unnecessary. On the other hand, students may find that core requirements expose them to a wider range of ideas than they would otherwise have found themselves.

Remember, the college you select is likely to be your home for the next four years, and a number of your classmates may become friends for life. Use your campus visits and research to decide which school (or schools) best fit your needs, your personality, your learning style and your goals.

Ryan Aldrich is the director of College Counseling at The White Mountain School and certified educational planner. He can be reached at


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