COLLEGE OF CHOICES; Hopeful Students Visit Campuses before Applying
Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Kim Russo walks the paths at the University of Maryland at College Park on a sunny, autumn day, but Kim is not a student here - yet. She is a senior in high school in New Hope, Pa., touring this university as part of a busy college-selection schedule this fall.
Kim, 17, has surfed the Internet to scope out the Web sites of potential colleges. She attended a college fair at her high school. She has narrowed her choices to schools within three hours of her home. She and her father, Dr. Gus Russo, have already checked out Lehigh University and the University of Delaware. They are also planning to visit Georgetown University and Penn State.
It's part of a process that began more than a year ago and likely won't be wrapped up until spring. Selecting a college takes research, time and action. It's a process that has changed in the years since Kim's father enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh site unseen.
"We're in the process of the puzzle coming together," says Dr. Russo, an orthodontist. "Kim's search has evolved from New York and Boston to schools closer to our area. When I was young, we didn't do all this visiting, but I think it is great."
The process of selecting a college has, in fact, changed a great deal, says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a Virginia-based professional organization for high school and college guidance and admissions counselors.
There are costly consultants who can help a student narrow his choices, write a fabulous essay and coach him toward better SAT scores. There are Web sites offering tours of campuses. There are videos of campuses that can be shipped to your home. Students can apply online, saving time and postage. There are tour companies that will take high school students on bus trips to look at a dozen colleges at a time.
"There are some great electronic resources out there," Mr. Hawkins says. "Kids have so much access now, and it is so much easier to apply. But still, even with all these resources, choosing a college still comes down to a brick-and-mortar exercise. There are real concerns and questions that can't be answered in a Web site."
Mr. Hawkins and many others in the college admissions industry say that resources such as Web sites and videos are wonderful starting points but that, in the end, nothing beats a personal visit. The Art and Science Group, a Baltimore college marketing consulting business, surveyed 500 high school students last year and found that 65 percent of them said a campus visit was the most influential source when choosing a college.
In other words, walking the paths, talking to students, even eating the cafeteria food, can be the deciding factor between College A and University B.
Kim is figuring that out. At Delaware, she liked the buildings and thought the people were friendly. At Lehigh, the students seemed "serious," and there were too many hills to climb on campus, she says. Still, she is waiting for the intangible feeling that her sister, Krista, got when she visited James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
"My older daughter is a senior at James Madison," Dr. Russo says. "She walked onto that campus four years ago and knew it was for her. It is great when that happens."
Teenagers are educated consumers when it comes to music and fashion. They are also savvy shoppers when it comes to colleges, Mr. Hawkins says. Just as Nike and Tommy Hilfiger are the "right" names to have in the closet, teens know that Duke, Harvard and Stanford are the status names for diplomas.
However, only the top students will have the choice of attending those schools. That leaves the other schools searching for their recruiting hook, he says.
"Colleges really count on the branding issue," Mr. Hawkins says. …