By Lisa Margolin, Founder of Journey Ahead, College Admissions Guidance
Visiting colleges and universities is an important summer activity for rising high school juniors and seniors. It’s important for college bound high school students in their later years to visit at least a few colleges, to see first hand what a campus is like, and to imagine themselves among real college students. This goes for all college visits, whether or not the campus you visit is your student’s dream college.
4 Ways to Get the Most Out of College Visits
Here are four ways to get the most out of your college visits:
1. Visit a variety of colleges nearby
Your student may be sure they are moving out of their childhood bedroom, your house, and their community. Still, visiting colleges nearby is a cost effective way to determine the type of college your student likes.
Plan a visit to a large public university in your area. What’s it like to be on a sprawling, busy, diverse campus? Check out the school newspaper if there is one, and some of the bulletin boards around campus to assess the vibe. Eat in the school cafeteria. Ask students what they like or don’t like about their college.
Visit a small, private college or university nearby. A small school will likely feel very different to you and your student than a large one. See if your student appreciates or needs a smaller environment, smaller class size, more opportunities to participate in clubs and groups on campus, more leadership opportunities, and more robust academic and career advising. These are generally the benefits of attending a smaller college.
If your family is open to a college that has a religious bent and there is one nearby, consider visiting. Many communities have a Catholic, Christian or Jesuit school. Most colleges accept all students, regardless of religious affiliation, and students of other religions or no religion generally feel welcome on these campuses.
After you have a sense of the types of colleges in your community your student likes, expand your search to include like colleges outside of your area. However, you should not feel compelled to visit every college that winds up on your student’s short list, especially if it is far away. There will time for that if and when your student is admitted. And if they aren’t, you haven’t wasted a trip.
2. Go on the student led tour, but take it with a grain of salt
When your student visits a college that truly interests them, take your research task seriously. You are about to spend more than $100,000 on your student’s education, and you need to make sure the college on your list is suitable for your student.
Take the student led tour, but keep in mind that tour guides work for the admissions office, are proud of their school and are trying to put its best face forward. That’s their job. You can glean a lot of information from a student led tour. But you’re still going to have to dig in with your own questions to determine if the college is suitable for your student.
While you’re on the tour, ask questions of the guide. Meet with an admissions officer to discuss how the school will meet your student’s needs.
3. Have a list of questions
Questions will vary by student, but here are some topics to consider exploring with your guide or admissions officer:
Do undergraduate research opportunities exist? Is it competitive to obtain one?
Is my major offered here?
How easy is it to get an internship in my field?
What is advising like here?
Does the college offer direct admittance into my major, or do I have to meet certain criteria before declaring my major?
Will there be career advising is offered here?
How many Freshmen live on campus?
Number of upperclassmen live on campus?
What’s the percentage of students who graduate in four years?
Is this a commuter or a residential campus?
Are study abroad opportunities available?
What percentage of students participate in Greek Life?
What’s a typical day like on this campus?
4. Take Photos or Make Notes
Most students have trouble remembering the specifics of one college vs. another. Photos serve as a visual reminder of the campus, and students will remember why they took a photo of something meaningful during their visit. Photos bring back powerful memories. We find that it’s a better reminder of the campus vibe and how the student felt on that campus than written notes.
Now, start searching.
After you’ve visited a variety of colleges in your hometown, follow with some that your student actually is considering applying to. Then search for other colleges that share the same attributes that your student wants in a college.
*Editor’s note: We wrote about some tips for planning college tours recently, and there is some good additional information in that story.
There are many college search tools available online, including Big Future, College Navigator, and CollegeXpress. Each will provide families with the ability to isolate key features and search comprehensively.
You may need the services of an Independent Educational Consultant to help you search for appropriate colleges with your student’s best fit in mind. That person can help manage financial issues related to college as well. Make sure to hire one that is affiliated with one or more professional membership organizations such as the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) or Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).
Lisa Margolin, founder of Journey Ahead, is an Independent Educational Consultant based in San Diego, CA. She provides college admissions guidance to students all over the United States, and is a professional member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.