Student columnist explains why students should visit colleges before making a decision.

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Brandon KyungIf you intend to apply for college, and are able to visit, then it is imperative that you tour your prospective schools. Today, colleges relentlessly advertise themselves with brochures and emails to display the best side of them. The reality is that these advertisements are not representative of the university as a whole. To truly see if someone belongs at that school, I think they need to visit the campus.

I personally experienced an entire shift in my opinion of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Duke University after visiting both schools this summer. I only knew Duke as a prestigious institution and basketball powerhouse. Beyond that, I wasn't really sure what to expect when I visited.

Once on campus, I was surrounded by gothic-style buildings, towering trees and students dressed in that Duke blue. Upon attending the admission officer's presentation, I had learned a little bit more about the school. However, the student-led tour truly provided insight on student life at Duke. That's when I realized I was a good fit. It was not a highly analytical or empirical decision; it was a gut feeling. I think touring schools helps reveal factors that draws people in.

Next, I visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before visiting the campus, I imagined pristine buildings and a vibrant student life. Perhaps my perception of their academic excellence and basketball prowess inflated my expectations. Nonetheless, my experience was quite different than my time at Duke. Despite being fairly similar to Duke in size and location, I did not feel the same connection. Walking the campus felt foreign to me at UNC. Whether it was the differing size in student population, or a myriad of other factors, I didn't feel the connection.

What surprised me most was the way my views of each school changed after visiting. It was a complete flip in opinion. Initially, I thought that UNC was the right fit for me and that Duke would not be appealing. Oh, how I was wrong. Had I not traveled to North Carolina, seen the schools, walked the campuses and interacted with the students, I wouldn't be making an informed decision come May 1, assuming I'm admitted.

With college being a huge investment, knowing what you're buying is critical. There are many influences that can shape your expectations so no one can be certain of their opinions on a school until they visit. If you buy a new car, a home, or other large investments, you generally go and see them before you buy. A college visit is just as important.

Brandon Kyung is a senior at Wilsonville High School.

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