Establish a relationship with an admissions officer. There are two goals to meeting with the admissions officer: Determining if the school is right for you and making a good impression on the counselor. Since people will make quick decisions about you when you walk in the door, make sure that you are professional and courteous. When you meet new people shake their hand and look them in the eye. Pay attention, don’t text, be personable, but don’t get too relaxed.
“If your interaction with an admissions officer is a positive one, it could mean the difference between them choosing you or the person they know nothing about,” says Cuffee-Gray.
Not all schools require interviews for admissions, but if you visit a school and plan to interview don’t bring your parent, guardian, or teacher to the interview. The recruiter will not be impressed if you appear to be a student who needs a handholder.
Ask the recruiter if African American students at the school are graduating at the same rate as other students. Knowing the graduation rates of black students will help you predict your own success. Finally, ask the admissions officer to introduce you to financial aid officers who can teach you about scholarships and grants that are specific to the school and/or state.
Try to find time to explore off tour. Most schools provide a campus tour given by an admissions counselor or student representative. Before you arrive schedule appointments to speak with individuals who don’t work for the recruiters office to get a less canned presentation and a more genuine opinion of the school.
In addition to the tour spend time with a professor in the discipline that you are interested in studying, attend a class or talk to students. Observe the teaching styles of the professors, the size of the classes, and the diversity of the students in the discipline you plan to study.
Make sure you will have the opportunity to be a part of a community. “Being in a place where you are happy and can grow is pretty important,” says Cuffee-Gray. “Students that feel successful academically and feel like they are a part of a community are more likely to stick it out and graduate in four years.”
If a lack of racial diversity is a concern, ask current African American students what it is like being a student on the campus. Their experiences may not necessarily be what yours will be, but their answers will tell you if the campus is racially polarized or if there is a support system for black students.
Even if the school lacks multicultural outlets, the presence of a large urban center nearby could be a source for positive diverse interactions. If you have time, try to explore the towns or cities surrounding the school and ask yourself ‘Am I going to be on an island or am I going to feel comfortable going into the community surrounding the school?’
Consider alternative ways to learn about a school’s character. Some schools have funding opportunities for underrepresented high school sophomores and juniors to visit the school for a weekend. For example Smith College, an all girls school, has a competitive program called Women of Distinction, which allows students of color to live on campus for three days and learn more about the school. Smith provides round-trip transportation, meals, and accommodations for all attendees.
Try visiting local colleges that are on par with the out-of-state schools you want to apply for. Programs like Upward Bound, a U.S. Department of Education program, helps high school students prepare for college by offering on-campus summer programs and dual enrollment courses, which allow high school students to take college classes for high school and college credit.