Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Novel Way to Visit Colleges

The process of deciding where to apply to college often begins with well-meaning suggestions from family and friends. They all have the perfect school in mind for you! Yet the key to finding colleges where the fit is right is to do your homework and research the schools. Then take a road trip. College visits are the best way to get a sense for life on campus and whether a college or university provides the academic and social experience that makes a student say, “I know I could be happy here.” Exploring college campuses can be fun as well as informative. Take it from someone that knows; as an independent educational consultant who visits fifty campuses a year, I am always excited to experience that “aha” moment when I see a college that I sense will be a great fit for a particular student.

Independent and school counselors regularly take to the road to expand or update their knowledge of the many higher education options available in order to best match students and colleges. Throughout the year, but especially in spring and summer, consortiums of colleges organize campus visits designed specifically for counselors and educational consultants. Anywhere from a few days to a week’s time, we zigzag across states by bus, with the hope of getting a firsthand look that will better enable us to understand the essence of a college and therefore, know whether a school would be a good fit for a student.

This summer a group of counselors from across the U.S. will come together in southern California and tour colleges by less conventional means: on bikes. Why not take a bus, car, or train, you might ask. These 19 hardy souls, myself included, are looking to combine a professional objective, expanding our college knowledge, with a host of other goals that include satisfying a love for cycling and physical exercise, camaraderie, personal fulfillment, and last, but not least, for fun. I would be disingenuous if I declared that I held a long-term passion for cycling. In fact, prior to officially committing to the tour a couple of months ago, I had not been on a bike in years. But embracing the challenge to train and the desire to see colleges in a novel way was all the motivation I needed.

On July 4 the group will gather at the University of the Redlands, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles, where we begin our journey. The first order of business will be to rent bikes, followed by the installation of racks and panniers to store our clothing and gear for the week. Yes, much to my chagrin, there is no SAG vehicle bringing up the rear (an Internet search taught me that the acronym stands for Support and Gear), which would carry our stuff and come to the aid of riders in need of assistance. I will learn the true meaning of “packing light” knowing that for one week’s time I will serve as my own pack horse.

Our travels take us to 14 schools including University of the Redlands, the five undergraduate colleges that comprise the Claremont Colleges consortium (Claremont McKenna, Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, and Harvey Mudd), University of LaVerne, Azusa Pacific University, the University of Southern California, Cal Tech, UCLA, Occidental, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. We will cycle 30 to 50 miles a day, stopping at each campus long enough to learn about the schools and get a sense for the academic and social communities. Our last stop each day will likely be our place of rest for the night, and since our accommodations will mostly be in dorms, we will truly get a firsthand college experience.

I am stepping up my training as I count down the weeks to the “College Tour de California.” I am looking forward to the trip with great anticipation, but I am also excited about the prospect of meeting with students when I return. I know there is a good chance I will discover just the college that will make me want to say to a student or two, “I’ve got a great school in mind for you!”

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