Category Archives: College Visits

UK University Tour


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Each year, I work with students curious about attending colleges outside of the US, and they are most often interested in Canadian or UK universities. So, I jumped at the invitation this past February to join a group of 30 US and international college counselors on a 6-day Northern England University Tour that included nine UK universities: Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Durham University, University of Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Chester. My trip concluded with a day in London to network with 21 London university representatives (including Imperial College London, University of Exeter, University of Liverpool, and the University of Nottingham) as well as attend a UCAS application workshop (the application used by most UK universities).

It was an incredible trip, as not only did I get to see the beautiful English countryside, Medieval castles, and diverse universities, but I also learned a lot about what kind of student would and would not be a good fit for earning their undergraduate degree abroad. Below is a quick summary of the most important things I learned about the differences between the UK system and the US system.

Things I learned:

1-Students in the UK finish their degree in three years instead of four. UK degrees do not include general education requirements or university core curriculums. Instead, students jump right into their course (major), so the degree length is shortened. Master’s programs are one year in length instead of two. For students wanting more than just a study abroad semester but are not quite ready to be abroad for three years immediately after high school graduation, a one-year master’s program abroad is a great option to consider.

2-Students need to know what they want to study when applying to UK universities, as students apply to specific colleges and often specific courses of study. Additionally, it is unlikely that a student can change colleges once they have applied. Students might be able to change courses (majors) within a college early on, but it is not guaranteed. Some colleges offer “dual honors” where students can study multiple subjects, but this is usually only offered in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Since at least one-third of US undergraduates change their major at least once (according to Inside Higher Education), this is important to consider before applying to UK universities.

3-Since students apply to a specific college or course, each course can have different admission requirements. Some courses (majors) have higher academic requirements than others. Additionally, students are mostly surrounded by students within their specific college in both their housing and their classes; this is in contrast to US universities, where students take more than half of their classes (general education courses plus electives) with students from different colleges and disciplines.

4-When students write their admission essay on the UCAS (UK) application, they should not write an insightful, “slice of life” story demonstrating their character like they are asked to do on US applications. UK universities and colleges want students to advocate for why they are a good fit for the academic course they are selecting.

5-The grading system is very different. In the UK, university grades are given on a percentage scale. Anything below 40% is a fail; 40-50% is a Third; 50-60% is a 2.2; 60-70% is a 2.1, and anything over 70% is a First. A student might be told that a good grade is 60% or above and that an excellent grade is 70% or above. Additionally, students are not regularly quizzed or graded on multiple assignments and tests. Students in the UK might receive a course grade for only one or two comprehensive exams.

6-Accommodations are different. In the US, it is part of the first-year experience to share a room with a randomly-assigned roommate and survive at least a year of dining hall food. In the UK, most “accommodations” are single rooms with a small kitchen. It is rare for students to have meal plans, as they do in the US. There are food venues on campuses, but most students live in self-catered housing where they are responsible for their own meals.

7-The legal drinking age in the UK is 18, and university students are known for their Pub Runs. Students should be prepared to take it slow. Read more here for social tips.

8-The cost of an education in the UK can often be less expensive, especially given the shortened length of time to graduation. In the UK, the government sets the limits for tuition fees, and each individual school sets its own fee up to that limit. According to a law passed in 2012, universities in England may charge up to £9000 (approximately $14,300) per year for UK residents. Fees for international students can be higher, and accommodation costs vary widely, so you need to do your homework. In the United States, the government has very little control over higher education costs, and instead let supply and demand dictate what universities charge and what they discount for merit, financial need, or talent.

9-Athletics are part of the social life here, but athletes are not treated with as much reverence as they are at US colleges. Top athletes in the UK are removed from the traditional education experience earlier, so student-athletes that attend UK universities all prioritize their academics over athletics. Most athletes join teams in a more casual way (coming to tryouts the week prior to classes), and athletic scholarships are very small in comparison to the US athletic scholarship system. UK university athletes are part of the general population instead of having separate dining halls and housing, and athletic facilities do not have the bells and whistles or high-tech amenities that US colleges use to attract recruits.

10-Students studying the UK need to be very independent. Students at UK universities do not rely on administrative staff for support and direction as much as students have been trained to do in the US. For the right student, a UK education could be a wonderful experience and education.

For summaries of each of the universities I visited, visit my website’s College Visits page later this month or contact me for a consultation.


Selecting and Connecting with Colleges

springstudentSpring semester junior year is typically when high school students seriously start thinking about college. For many students, this can make them feel overwhelmed or anxious, as they don’t know how to start putting together a college list. I strongly encourage students to write down their fears along with their dreams, then find a trusted advisor to help talk through each concern and wish. Students (and parents) often get stressed out when they hear about college-related things other people are doing. From my experience, the best way to combat this anxiousness is with that old saying, “Knowledge is Power”. Students should get to know themselves better and focus on putting together a list that supports their values, not someone else’s. I encourage students to focus on creating a list of five or six college qualities that they believe will be important to their success and self-efficacy. Then use these qualities to create a best-fit college list. Qualities can include majors and programs, or simply the ability to let students explore before choosing a major. They can also include location, size, alumni support, study abroad programs, academic support, small class sizes, internship or research opportunities, school spirit, specific activities, and on and on. Students and families should also consider financial needs as part of this exercise. Continue reading

Spring + HS Junior = College Visit Season

IMG_0993Spring is a great time for juniors in high school to visit colleges they have been researching, in preparation for a productive summer of finalizing their college lists and working on their essays and applications.  What?  You haven’t been researching colleges? Don’t stress! But now is the time to start so that you know where to apply this summer and fall.  Read here for tips on putting together your college list:

Even if you do not have a rough list of colleges you are considering, there are opportunities within driving distance for you to explore this spring. I recommend visiting a large, state university in your home state, along with a few, smaller private colleges.  Visit an urban school, along with ones in suburban or rural settings.  Take notes on what you like from each visit and use that information to find similar schools in different geographical locations.

For Oregon residents, both flagship universities are offering Junior Visit Days this spring that include the typical campus visits and admissions sessions, plus special interest sessions. For more information and to register, check out the links below:

Oregon State University (February 19, March 26, March 30, April 6 or April 13)

University of Oregon Duck Days (March 9, March 16, March 23, April 6, April 9, April 20 or April 27)IMG_1025

Even if you don’t have travel plans this spring, you can virtually visit any college.  One of my favorite virtual tour sites is, which closely mimics a real, on-campus tour.  Try this one for Colgate University in Hamilton, NY.

Many families use Spring Break to visit colleges. Make sure you book your plans soon, as Spring Break tour dates often fill up quickly. You should also check here for college spring break dates, as some campuses suspend their tours during the college’s Spring Break. Before you head out on your tour, you need to prepare to make the most of your visit.  Continue reading for my favorite College Visit Tips.

  • Go to the admission session and take the official tour. Some schools care about students showing Demonstrated Interest. When you attend an official tour and admission session, it is noted in your file and might be considered as part of your admissions decision. These sessions vary in the amount of information they provide but try not to judge a school based solely on its presenter or tour guide.
  • Plan your trip early. The most informative part of a tour is often meeting with a department head or professor in the subject area you are interested in studying, or even sitting in on a class. You need to request this opportunity at least two weeks in advance.
  • Build in time to explore. Allow time to eat in one of the dining halls and explore the surrounding area. Take the time to find the essentials you need to feel at home (the closest Starbucks, coolest music venue or best cheeseburger).
  • Research each college before you visit so you’ll have specific questions to ask. Do you want to know about research opportunities within your major?  Do you know if the major you are considering has higher admission standards than other majors?  Are you interested in themed housing? Do you have questions about financial aid or scholarships?  Know what you want to know more about.
  • Pay attention to the students on campus. Are they happy and friendly?  Do you hear students talking about academics outside of class? Do students all look the same, or do you see a diverse student body? If you are comfortable, approach a group of students and introduce yourself as a prospective student; ask them why they chose their school, what they love and what they wish they could change.


  • Pick up a copy of the campus newspaper. The tour guides share what is new and wonderful, but to really understand what is happening on campus and what current students are concerned about, the campus newspaper gives you the inside scoop.
  • Take good notes and pictures to help you remember details of your visit. Write down what you learned, liked and what didn’t quite fit before you get to another campus. If this is a school you eventually apply to, you might have to write an essay about your visit and answer “Why this College?” essay questions.
  • Don’t rush back to the hotel. Ask campus staff for the best places to eat and visit off campus. This could be your new home. Have fun!


Summer Tips for High School Students: Planning is key!

I was recently inplanningphototerviewed by Stephanie Kralevich with KPTV’s More Good Day Oregon about what high school students should be doing this summer to get ready for the college application process.  Below are the recommendations that I shared with her for summer planning, general tips for preparation, and advice for visiting colleges.

Stephanie: What should current high school students be doing right now to get ready for the college application process?

Kristen/College Bound & Ready: The best advice I can give to students right now is to use their summers wisely.  Summers are a great time for students to explore their interests and develop their leadership skills, whether that is through volunteering, working in a job or internship, or learning a new skill.  Colleges are very interested in how students spend their free time, so I encourage students to demonstrate their leadership, initiative, and impact in the activities they choose.  Below is my general timeline for students throughout their high school experience:

Student, Typing, Keyboard, Text, WomanFreshman Year: Be the best student you can be: work to achieve good grades, learn how to ask for help, and create good study habits. Start making your summer plans early. The best internships and jobs for teens often have early (February/March) deadlines. Here are two popular, Portland-area options for teens: OMSI Teen Science Alliance and Portland Parks & Recreation. Continue reading

College Presentations Near You

The T stop at Harvard

Of course, the best way to get to know a college and discover whether it is a good fit for a student is to visit the college in person.  But with the average number of colleges on students’ lists consistently growing, it can be an expensive and time-consuming proposition to visit every college a student is considering. According to The American Freshman Report  46% of private school students and 25% of public school students applied to seven or more colleges in 2015, up from 17% overall in 2005. Given that demonstrated interest is becoming more important to many colleges, what can students do to get to know colleges and show demonstrated interest without visiting?

Besides the steps discussed in this recent blog post, students (and parents) should research if and when colleges will be visiBoston U presentationting their area, and plan to make a connection.  Some colleges still have room in their schedules and budgets for individual high school visits.  A high school’s counseling office should have a schedule of these spring and fall visits to share with families, and students should plan to attend the visits offered from colleges of interest to them.  But many colleges aim for more bang for their bucks by conducting joint presentations with other colleges and universities or by hosting their own informational events at a more central location.  If your student is looking to make connections, learn more about certain colleges and show demonstrated interest, check out this list of upcoming College Presentations in Portland, Oregon, as well as sites to check for future visit dates in your area: Continue reading

Virtual Campus Tours

Nothing can replace a college visit, and having a student feel, “I can see myself here”, or “I don’t think this is for me”.  College is a huge investment, and most of us wouldn’t make a large purchase without first seeing and feeling the item we are purchasing up close.  But time and finances limit most families to a handful of in-person visits, so using online tours to narrow the list can be very beneficial.
img_7588When trying to decide which schools to visit in person and which schools to visit online, I recommend students start by visiting a variety of colleges within driving distance. Many students feel they would never want to attend college so close to home, but once they are on campus, recognize it is a great fit; and that moving out to attend college is moving out, no matter how far or close to home.  Just as importantly, visiting a variety of schools (large research universities, small liberal arts college, public colleges, religiously-affiliated colleges, specialized colleges, etc.) gives students a chance to understand what they like and don’t like before investing in far-off travel plans.

Next, I would take a hard look at the student’s college list, and do some research to determine the student’s current top choices and to ascertain which schools care about demonstrated interest.  Many schools pay attention to demonstrated interest to gauge how likely a student is in attending a school.  The higher the percentage of admitted students that accept a college’s offer (the retention rate), the higher the school’s rankings.  There are a number of ways to demonstrate interest, but some schools place a lot of weight on the college visit. I would put those schools at the top of a student’s visit list (find out by asking the college directly or check out the admissions tab for a college in College Data). Continue reading

College Tours For Freshman and Sophomores? (And juniors and seniors)

 As the new year settles in and students close the books on their first semester, spring and summer trip planning can be welcome distraction.  If you have a junior or senior in high school, college visits are likely to be a part of your trip planning. But even if you have a freshman or sophomore in high school, taking a few hours to listen to an information session and tour a beautiful college campus near your already-planned destination has its benefits.

I often hear from juniors and seniors that they wish they img_5079had known how important their freshman and sophomore years really were in regards to college admission.  Hearing directly from admissions staff about their admitted student body (average GPA, test scores, activities) is a much more potent way to motivate a student, than mom or dad nagging them to do well in school.  And encouraging your student to think early on about the kinds of environments that help them be successful and make feel welcome can help students be more confident throughout the college planning process.

Fall and early spring visits are the best times to experience campuses when they are in full swing, but spring, summer and winter breaks are often the only chance for a student and his/her family to break away from activities and school to travel (check here for college spring break dates). These visits will give you the chance to see the campus and learn about school programs, but you might miss the chance to observe the full student body and you’ll have to work a bit harder to sense if they are your crowd. Continue reading