This week we are joined by our Associate Director of Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen. Welcome, Andrew!
It has been a while, but it is good to be back on the blog, especially during one of my favorite times of the year. April is a busy month for all admission professionals, but especially for those responsible for campus visit programming. Between high school juniors starting to tour campuses to admitted students hunkering down to make their college enrollment decision, institutions are busy welcoming students and families to their campuses. Here at Georgia Tech, it is not unusual for us to see 400 visitors each day throughout the month of April!
But it is not just these busy weeks of spring break visits and admitted student events that I look forward to each year, it is also my favorite Jewish holiday that always falls right in the middle of all of this craziness. The Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated each spring to commemorate and retell the story of the exodus from Ancient Egypt. Each year, Jewish families all over the world gather together for a seder to retell the story. For me, Passover is a time filled with family traditions and memories, like making matzah balls with my Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), utilizing various family heirlooms on the seder table that have been used for decades and always some subpar singing from my father. We even use the same Haggadah (book or guide used during the Passover seder), that has been used by my family for more than 30 years. My father still uses my grandfather’s Haggadah with all his notes from when he led our seders until his passing.
One of the parts of a traditional Passover seder is known as the Four Questions. Early on in the seder, the youngest family member recites a series of four questions to help fulfil the obligations of retelling the story of Passover and to help children at the seder better understand the significance of the holiday. Although I am in my thirties, I am still the youngest at the Cohen Family Seder, so I continue to hold the responsibility of reciting these four questions (really hoping for a nephew or niece to eventually take this one over!). The Four Questions all center around the idea of “Why is this night different from all other nights?” As we go through each question, we are reminded of the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the traditions of Passover that are still practiced today.
Like the Passover seder, visiting campus should be an engaging, interactive experience. It’s an opportunity for you to pause, reflect, and and ask important questions to help you make or confirm your final college choice. Here are ways to frame your questions and prepare ahead of time to maximize your visit.
1. Academic Interests and Options
Make an effort to meet with experts beyond admission counselors and tour guides. Inquire in advance to see if you might be able speak with faculty members, academic advisors, or students within a particular major. This is your chance to understand specific courses, various research projects, or other academically-related opportunities. Prospective students frequently ask general questions about majors and academic programs such as “do you have a psychology major?” or “tell me about your engineering program?” As an admitted student, your goal is to understand details about the academic area you are considering, and how you can tailor your studies toward your interests. “How can I be a computer science major but also be a pre-med student?” or “I am interested in fintech. What kind of classes would I be able to take in this area?” Remember, your goal is to glean insight and details to gain an understanding of what your experience will really look like on these campuses.
If the standard tour does not go to the buildings, or area of campus, where you will be spending a lot of your time, go there on your own. Even if you do not speak with someone, go into the different facilities, read the posters on the walls, and listen to what students are talking about in the hallways. This is about understanding possibilities and culture.
Students and families always have questions about living on campus and want to see specific residential halls. Unfortunately, that is not always possible, due to the safety and privacy of students. You’ll find most institutions have alternatives to allow you to better understand the on-campus living experience. At Georgia Tech, we are unable to show visitors a residential hall, but our Office of Housing and Residence Life, have 360 photos of every single option… much more than what you would be able to ever see on a campus tour.
As an admitted student, your goal is to understand some of the unique residential opportunities available. For example, many institutions offer the option to live in theme-based housing which connects programming and classes. Talk to your tour guide and other current students about the pros and cons about these types of experiences.
For admitted students, this is your chance to get an inside look at what it is really like to be a member of the institution’s community. As an admitted student, don’t rush on and off campus. Build in time to explore parts of campus not shown on tour, talk to current students, attend an event, or just sit on campus and watch and listen.
Keep in mind you are visiting campus one day out of the year, so your experience is not going to be a fully accurate representation of the campus culture. For instance there might not be many events happening if you are on campus the Friday before spring break or during final exams. This is where social media accounts can really help you learn more about things that happen throughout the year. My colleague, Sammy, shared some great tips in a TikTok video on how to use social media effectively in your college search or decision-making process. We all spend time scrolling on our social media, but this is a really great way to make that time productive!
4. Stories not statistics
Statistics can be helpful in helping you make a final decision, but you can ask Google for those. Use your time on campus to ask for stories and anecdotes about graduates or graduating seniors. As an admission staff member who works with our campus tour guides, I love to brag about them (just like their parents and family members). Yes, I can tell you a graduation rate, but talk to people like me on campus and they’ll inevitably tell you about a student deciding between multiple job offers across the country in their area of study, or connect you with a tour guide who interned over the summer and worked on a project that was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And ask tour guides for their stories too! It might be their own personal experience finding an internship or maybe their friends. By reframing these questions, you will gain much better insight to the all-important topic of return on investment.
As we head toward May 1 and you visit schools to make your final choice, I hope you will refine and reframe your questions so you can utilize your time on campus. Ultimately, this will help you gain the insight and confidence you need to make this important decision.
I wish you the best of luck. Enjoy the remainder of high school– and an early congratulations on graduation.
And for those readers, who celebrate Passover, Chag Sameach.
Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic, and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has led him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.