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The College Quest

Question: What took 28,000 miles on the road, $9,500 in traveling expenses, and 91 college visits?

Answer: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Editorial Board's tracking of targeted seniors winding their way through the college visit and selection process.

It's been an interesting journey. In the latest installment, entitled Campus visit: A choice moment, reporter Krista Ramsey notes:

What does it take for 12 high school seniors to find the college of their dreams?

Try 28,000 miles on the road, $9,500 in traveling expenses, and 91 college visits.

Those are the totals racked up thus far by the seniors the Enquirer Editorial Board is following through the college admissions maze. This summer they're flocking to campuses from New York University to Oxford University in England, hoping to narrow their choices before they begin applying this fall.

The students are part of the Class of 2010, which is expected to be the largest freshman class ever to enter U.S. colleges. Their numbers and predilection for higher education have tightened admissions, with many colleges seeing their applicant pool grow by nearly a quarter and candidate quality increase as well.

So like almost everything else the record-setting class is experiencing, the campus visit has gotten more complex, high-stakes and expensive.

It used to be simple: High-school seniors and their parents devoted a Saturday (or two) in the fall to day trips, usually to in-state schools.

Now the average student applies to five schools - with 20 percent filing seven or more applications - and campus visits can begin as early as junior high, continue to spring of senior year, and send families on wide and sometimes expensive swings across the nation.

Before she begins her senior year at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading, Katie Markgraf has toured nine colleges, from Wake Forest and Vanderbilt to Xavier University. Before she makes her final decision, she plans to add six more, plus a return trip to Vanderbilt. So far, she's logged 1,692 miles.

"The visits changed how I looked at things a lot," admits Katie, who lives in Madeira. "I'd get on campus and think, I don't like this at all."

On a four-day swing through Southern schools with her father, Duke University went from top pick to completely off her list because of its heavy emphasis on research, not Katie's interest. Vanderbilt scored points for its new freshman dorms and campus vibe. Happy students and personal attention left her with a good impression of the University of Dayton.

"It's kind of a feeling you get about the school," she says, echoing the almost mystical connection experts say often leads students to lock into a college after a visit - a gut feel that trumps hard numbers, college rankings, previous preferences and sometimes even cost.

For colleges, the visit is the Big Show, the chance to bypass online and snail-mail communications, put their best foot forward and show families what sets them apart . . .

This is an interesting collection of real-world opinions and data. The article includes an abundance of links to additionally helpful, if not entertaining, options, such as a quizto test your general knowledge of college admissions. There are also profiles of the participants, a "college quest" blog, a student blog, and an experts' blog. (Well, you're already here reading an expert's blog, right?)

We've discussed college visits and the finer details of the entire college process here, but the real-world aspect of the Enquirer's approach makes it interesting and insightful. Even the comments are interesting. I'd enjoy hearing about some of your college quest experiences. That's what the comments section is for. Feel free to enlighten us!

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.