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How to Tour a School

The following article is taken verbatim from my book, How to Music Major: Surviving the College Search! It’s on Amazon and all other places ebooks are sold. There’s lots of stuff in it, drawing on my own experience and my friends’ knowledge of getting into and succeeding at the whole College Dealio. If you have topics that you’d like to see included in the next book, What to Expect Freshman Year, message me and ask!

So you’ve chosen some interesting schools — now you’re going to actually visit them. Impressions are important! There’s a reason people stress about first impressions for interviews. Think of your visits to a school’s campus as interviews: you’re meeting people for the first time, you’re letting them know about your existence, you may be auditioning and giving them an idea of your skills, and in turn you’re learning about the school and getting a feel for the atmosphere of the place. Be on your best behavior, and make a good impression by doing the following:

Dress very well

Your clothes are, unfortunately, a big part of the impression you make. For auditions, dress like you’re pretty sure you might meet the Queen, but don’t want to seem like you’re trying too hard. (This is otherwise known as a colorful business formal.) You have to look professional for your audition, because people want to know that you can actually, you know, be professional. For all that most of college is spent in your pajamas, as a music major you will spend some of it wearing very nice clothes up on a stage, and an audition is literally just a test run to see if they think you have the potential to do that. (There’s further discussion of audition apparel under Auditions.)

If you’re not auditioning during this visit, still dress well – business casual, probably. It sets you apart as someone who puts in more effort than the person who wears stained jeans and a Bob Marley shirt. No offense to Marley, but the people who wear him across their chests before they begin their college careers tend not to be as hard-working as those schools want. Schools like people who look like they care about school.

Be polite

This should be common sense, but you’d be surprised at the reactions you get for saying “please,” “thank you,” “ma’am,” “sir,” or even just being cheerful and holding doors. Pretend your entire job is to bring back gender-neutral chivalry. There are a lot more people than you’d think who just don’t say or do those things. To people in academia, respect is very important — be polite and you’ll win them over easily.

Have questions prepared

You’d do it for an interview, so do it for a school visit! Auditions themselves don’t really have a question portion, but before and after the audition you might be talking with a lot of the school’s faculty, staff, and students. Have questions for them! Ask teachers what they like to see in a new student. Ask staff about scholarship opportunities or application tips. Ask students about their favorite professors or classes. You want to ask about the kinds of things you wouldn’t find in a brochure, like I said earlier in the section on choosing a school.This has the added bonus of once again — surprise! — making you stand out as someone who really cares about the school. That’s the thing that you really want to emphasize. If you don’t care about the school, maybe don’t apply to it? It’s money and time you don’t need to spend. Backup schools can still be schools you care about, you know?

Know some stuff about the school

This ties DIRECTLY into the one above! Know stuff about this school that you’re visiting. You don’t need to know precise numbers, but know roughly how big the school is, know the rough size of the department, know the names of the professors of your instrument, stuff like that. Know if they offer several kinds of majors (B.A., B.M., B.S., stuff like that). If you can’t find this stuff out, ask! Again, this ties back into caring about the school. They want to know you care, and I will continue repeating this because it’s honestly the most important part of making a good first impression.

Find a middle ground between bragging and humility

People are going to ask you to talk about yourself when you visit a school. It’s true. It’s unavoidable. Now, there are four schools of thought you can come from when it comes to talking about yourself in interview situations.

  1. Some people just constantly talk themselves up. It’s like they have no down-sides, no flaws. They’re super-human and they probably sleep in a bed made of gold on a mattress stuffed with fan letters.

  2. Other people hem and haw, and finally drag something from the depths of their soul that’s mediocre at best.

  3. The third, worst group, combines the unpleasant aspects of the first two: they hem and haw, they don’t want to sound full of themselves, they say… and then they spout off something even more “impressive” than the people who straight-out talk themselves up.

Needless to say, avoid being in groups 1, 2, and especially group 3. Group 4, however…

  1. These people have a couple things that they talk about, but they keep it short. They know that no one wants a twenty-minute soliloquy about how awesome they are, AND ALSO that no one wants to spend ten minutes listening to someone confusing “humility” with “not having a personality.”

Be in group 4. Have a couple of activities or accomplishments that you’ll talk about, but don’t drone on, and don’t make people drag them out of you. In essence, be a pleasant person to talk to.

Know what you want

If you’re visiting a school, don’t let shiny statues or a building dedicated to making cookies lead you away from the point of the visit: figuring out if the school and the program will get you the education and experience you need to succeed.

I visited that college with the cookie-making building, and let me tell you, that was a pretty school. It didn’t have any support for my major whatsoever, it cost upwards of $40,000 a year, and during my overnight stay my host got alcohol poisoning, but dang, it was a pretty school. I dropped it from my list after that alcohol poisoning incident, but I won’t lie, there was regret in my heart.

Now, though? I am so, so glad I went with a school that has support for my major, a good faculty, and an amazing music business program, even though the practice rooms look a little dungeon-y. The education — which is what I want — is amazing. So go in knowing what you’re after: AKA quality education. Leave the shiny buildings for people who are easily razzle-dazzled.

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