University visits - a counsellor's perspective

Here, David Allen, past-President of OACAC and Director of Univisits Ltd. offers tips and advice for counsellors on how to get the most out of university campus visits.

I have always believed that visiting a college or university is a counsellor’s textbook. As many of us know from our students, however, textbooks are not always that well utilised by their users. It is therefore of paramount importance that we, as counsellors, make the most out of any visit we may go on.

First amongst the ways in which I try and maximise the benefit of a visit is that I take lots and lots of photographs - the first one always being of a sign or notice with the university or college’s name on it; that way I can remember where I was and what I was taking photos of. I don’t know about you, but as I get older and the number of visits that I have done increases, I find that the photographs act as a visual memory-jogging device and I am much more readily able to recall the facts and figures that were given to me by my ‘hosts’. Also, through flicking through the photos, I recall the ‘feel’ that I got whilst walking around. I find it best to snap away with my small, point and shoot camera as that way I am not interrupting any tour guide and I find it gives me a better ‘feel’ for the campus.  

A second ‘best practice’ that I use is to make sure that the tour guide is made very aware of the fact that I have done many, many visits before and do not want to be given the company line; as one colleague puts it, ‘Give us the tour you’d give your best friend to get them to come here’. Linked to this is the sort of questions to ask your guide - they will have down-played the standard answers about safety (what exactly are those blue lights for?), food, dorm/residences and so on. but may give you a more honest answer if you ask such questions as: ‘What has been your greatest disappointment since coming here?’, ‘If you were making a £10m bequest, what would you require the university to spend it on?’ or ‘When was the last time you left a lecture/tutorial and went 'Wow!'?

Lastly, try and get the college/university to feed you in a student area - you can learn a lot from watching students with each other and faculty if they are there also. Many times after I have left a college or university, my first recollection of it when a student asks me is the food.

These thoughts are by no means exhaustive. Each and every one of us will have our own way of making the most out of our ‘textbook’; it is important, however, that we persuade our administrators that there is simply no better way to get an idea of a university or college than to visit it in person; after all, isn’t that what we tell our students and their parents? 

Written by David Allen
Univisits Ltd.