College Visit

Personalized College Campus Tours with Real College Students

At the IECA conference in DC last week, I had a chance to chat with the founder of Campus Sherpa, David Patou. Campus Sherpa allows students to directly experience a college through a student with similar interests to them. I like this concept a lot, and am curious to see how the company grows. 

Prospective students fill out a form indicating their background and interests, where they want to visit, for how long and in what format, and students will then be matched with an appropriate "Sherpa" i.e. current students at one of the 150+ participating colleges. Students may elect to visit a school with a short trek, longer excursion, or a "summit" of a full-day shadowing a student through their classes. I also like that a Skype conversation is an option for students who can't visit campuses, but really need to get a better handle on those details about what *truly* sets this school apart from its peer institutions. And it may also prove handy for those supplemental Why Us? essay prompts.

Some colleges make a real effort to engage visitors vis-a-vis their tour program. Some Admissions Offices' extremely competitive tour guide programs may ensure eager, chipper tours, but could come off as glossy or generic. I recently visited UVA, where the tour guide program is completely independent of the Admissions Office, thereby supposedly guaranteeing impartiality. We did 'happen' to walk by Social Entrepreneurship club offering free donuts and apple cider. In the unseasonably cold afternoon, it was memorable. Oftentimes, a tour can make a HUGE difference if a student decides to apply or not. While the tour guide is not always the deciding factor, it can be significant (think weather: I didn't like Middlebury College when I visited, and may in retrospect attribute that to the horrendous, icky, wintery icy downpour during my visit).

Campus Sherpa includes a review from one recent parent:

"After going to Harvard and MIT and finding hundreds of people touring with us, all of us following shouting guides around like sheep, we were looking for a better way. With Campus Sherpa, you get an insider's look at what a college or university is all about." 
- Mary H, Mother of Sophomore Cole H


In short, check them out! You can also save 20% on their one-to-one personalized college tours using code: JULIA9687

Duke University Visit

The last stop on my North Carolina college tour was visiting Duke University, home of the fighting Blue Devils, and fierce rival of my morning visit, UNC-Chapel Hill. Duke is home to 6,800 undergrads and situated on an 8,600 acre campus, there is a lot of land to go around. Located a few miles from the downtown of Durham, now a hip and artistic innovation hub that has drawn many world-famous startups and tech heavyweights. I am going to break up my visit to Duke with fun facts about the university and then a second post specifically about Duke admissions, and insights from the helpful information session led by a Duke admissions officer. First, the fun!

Fun Facts about Duke

-Durham boasts the lowest gender wage gap of any city in the US, and is also the “geekiest city” and a big foodie city
-Duke emphasizes collaboration rather than competition between students, there’s an 8:1 student-faculty ratio and 70% classes are under 20 students
-The demographic breakdown of students is: North Carolina residents- 12%; international 14%, northeast 14%, Asian/Asian-American 25%, Caucasian 47%
-Duke has the top 5 research budget in the nation per capita
-The Duke admissions officer highlighted that Duke prides itself on Flexibility and Opportunity- 80% of students are enrolled in the College of Arts and Science, where there are 48 majors, 50 minors, and 20 certificates. The remaining 20% of students are enrolled in engineering
-A 98% retention rate means that 98/100 students who come to Duke decide to stay, that is very high!

UNC Chapel Hill Visit and Admissions Tips

Julia’s visit to UNC-Chapel Hill was a great one, thanks to a fantastic student tour guide, and a comprehensive information session. 

"Carolina” as they call themselves claims the title of "first public university in the country” and since then has grown by leaps and bounds. It is home to 18,500 undergraduates, making it a public mid-sized university. In spite of its large size, 78% of classes have under 40 students, and first-year seminars help acclimate students to campus.

Most majors are the in College of Arts and Sciences, and most popular ones are Biology, Economics, and Psychology. Students can declare a major at any time, and in sophomore year students can apply for professional schools including business, media, and journalism.

The students at Carolina “bleed baby blue” and have so much pride for their school. Most famed for their basketball team success, there are many reasons students choose Carolina. The tour guide, who was an out-of-state junior from Florida told me that she picked Carolina over another unnamed school in St. Louis because she found Carolina students to be much less competitive, and much more friendly and collaborative. 

Fun Facts:

-Carolina is ranked #1 in value by Kiplinger’s 13 years in a row! 
-Need-blind admissions application reading, the university invests heavily in need-based aid, such that 60% of graduates leave with no debt
-30,000 internship opportunities
-60% of undergraduates do original research
-800+ student organizations
-The famous well on campus is the emblem for the NCAA and myth has it that if students drink from the well on the first day of classes, they will get a 4.0. The lines are very long beginning at midnight for a drink of water!
-Carolina has a 96% retention, 90% graduation rate, and 96% of graduates landed jobs or were in graduate school within 6 months 


Carolina Demographics:

82% of incoming class must be IN-state, so out-of-state admissions is much more competitive

20% First-generation
34% Students of color
14% Covenant scholars, who receive a full scholarship
35% of North Carolina residence students come from rural counties
40 States, 31 countries 


Tips on Applying from the Carolina Admissions Office:

-Don’t worry about writing “undecided” or wondering if a major is more competitive or not, you will not be penalized or compared more or less harshly (they know most students will change their major!)

-They do a "Holistic review” and read your full application line by line 

-Advise students to "Bloom where you are planted” in terms of extra-curricular activities. They want to know what you are doing in that organization for extracurriculars, not that you are trying to be everything to everyone and everyone team/club/cause because that’s impossible! They would prefer to see growth, development and “roots” and “blooms” in what you have decided to stick with. 

-Require the SAT or ACT, but not require writing, and they will superscore, but do not require subject tests, you can self-report the scores if you choose to include them 

-A personal statement the admissions officer liked and mentioned: anything with specific examples that stand out: such as, a student was tired of being the quiet kid through middle school, and went out and bought only Hawaiian shirts which he wore through high school. 

-1 Letter of recommendation is required, and they also prefer letters with specific examples, such as “This student is always bringing in relevant articles to share” or in an English class "students rush to get help from this student during peer editing sessions” to show how you stand out.

Wake Forest University Visit


The first stop in my North Carolina tour was to visit Wake Forest University, located on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This highly selective university of 8,000 students moved to Winston-Salem in the 1950s, and is a bastion of scientific inquiry and rigorous liberal arts education in the rolling North Carolina hills. The main campus is located 3/4 miles from downtown Winston-Salem, while the “Wake downtown” campus in downtown Winston-Salem is primarily home to the Engineering Department and Biotech research. In September 2017, U.S. News  ranked Wake Forest #27 in the country in their “Best Colleges” listings. From the same report, it was also ranked #12 in “Strong Commitment to Undergraduate Teaching” and #23 in “Best Value”.

Quick Facts about Wake Forest

-Wake is 10% international and 1/3 ethnically diverse
-60% of classes have less than 20 students, and all are discussion-based classes
-Students live by the school motto of Pro Humanitate or For Humanity. That means that community service is huge, and most students participate in some form of service
-During my tour, the tour guide encouraged students to go find professors in a department they are interested in after the tour, told us that they are often open to meeting prospective students
-A new program allows incoming freshman to spend their whole first year in Copenhagen, Denmark

Applying to Wake Forest

Wake Forest has an unusual approach to critiquing and evaluating applicants. This is in part because they do NOT require test scores from the SAT or ACT. As they like to say "4 years in high school means more than 4 hours on a Saturday morning.” How many students don’t submit scores? Most recently, 1/3 of enrolled students did not submit test scores in the application process.

In exchange for offering “test optional” to applicants, Wake encourages students to be creative in their application. Students need to answer 7-8 short answer questions, which include questions like what podcast would you create, and ask students to create their own “Top-10 list.” The admissions officer offered that one of her favorites was “The Top Dwarfs that didn’t make it into Snow White” but she has seen other good ones like “Top 10 Things That Your Grandmother Taught You.” Interviews at Wake usually last 20-25 minutes, and are not required, but recommended. There is a separate Wake Forest application that domestic US students can use, but international students still need to use the Common App. Of course, make sure to check directly with any university’s website for each year’s updated requirements, as expectations, deadlines, and required documents often change without notice. 

University of Southern Maine Visit

University of Southern Maine Visit

Top 5 Tidbits: 

-Interested in Geography? USM is home to over 400,000 maps, and the 2nd largest collection of globes in the world, wow!

-Over 80% of students receive some kind of aid

-If you are interested in merit aid, remember to fill out the FAFSA! This year it is available in October! Every public university requires your information to qualify for merit scholarships in addition to need-based aid

-USM Business School has AACSB accreditation— the mark of quality distinction most widely sought after by business schools -- less than 5% worldwide have earned the achievement.

-USM offers an unusual but highly useful Cyber Security major!