A visit to a college campus is a very important part of the process of finding a college that is a great academic, social and financial fit. The very first point: make sure your son or daughter is enthusiastically on-board and engaged in making the plans.
Visits can range from an informal drive through the campus to attending a campus-based event to staying overnight with a student. The most common visit is about three hours including an information session and guided tour of the campus conducted by a student who happens to be particularly adept at walking backward while talking up the fine points of the school. Most students visit colleges during their junior year and summer before senior year, but there is not a right or wrong time.
Here’s how to make a college visit pay off for your family:
Make a plan.
Like most aspects of the college process, you’ll get more out of the experience and feel calmer if you plan ahead. It pays to research colleges in advance, make a timeline and sign-up as early as possible for the information session and tour. During prime visiting times, the tours and sessions can be sold-out. The logistics for the information session and tour can be found on the school’s web site. If you’d like some special arrangement (meeting a professor or coach, attending a class, visiting a particular laboratory or building) call in advance to see what accommodations can be made. Also, try narrowing the list before investing the time, effort and emotion of a visit is very important. Is your student most interested in urban or rural schools? Large or small? Is this school likely to affordable for your family? Do you need to meet someone in the financial aid office to discuss options?
Visit local schools first.
Try visiting a school nearby to get accustomed to the college tour process before trekking across the country on an expensive college tour. This also helps you better measure differences and make comparisons between colleges. It’s likely your child knows students at a local campus. They should contact friends that attend and make time for an impromptu campus visit to meet other students. You’ll save money and have a better idea of what schools you might want to travel to visit by narrowing the list as much as possible.
Take great notes.
Every college has a lot to offer, but after a few campus visits, they all seem to blur together. Taking notes, and even pictures, of the campus, can help reinforce key differentiating points amongst the school tours that make a campus unique.
A list of standard questions to be answered for each school affords you a great opportunity to compare the schools on a common basis once your return home and can facilitate the decision-making process.
Visit while school is in session.
It is preferable to visit the school while the students are there. Visiting in the summer shows the buildings, but not the student body. While visiting, engage students – they love to talk about their process for choosing the college.
Breakaway from the tour.
Remember, the info session and guided tour are carefully scripted marketing sessions intended to sell the school to students. Dig a little deeper to get the most authentic experience: walk around independently, eat in the cafeterias, visit the student union, and roam around areas of campus that weren’t featured on the tour.
For many students, visiting college campuses is a real signal that their life is about to change. They picture themselves on the campus, interacting with the kids they are meeting as future peers. The feeling they get from the time they open the car door to the time you leave is an important part of the selection process. Give them some room to take it all in.