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Make the Most of College Visits
With spring break and summer travel seasons looming ahead, now is a perfect time for families to plan their “grand tour” of colleges. It is easy for students and families to feel overwhelmed at this part of the process, so keep in mind that for most families, it is impossible to visit all the colleges that might hold interest for a student. Knowing how to focus these visits can make them much more manageable and enjoyable. Ideally, college visits should be fun, albeit productive, adventures. Just setting foot on a campus starts making the idea of college feel real for high school juniors. College visits are an opportunity for a teen—and his or her parents—to daydream and to envision the young adult that is emerging from within.
Use these strategies to gather the information needed to help make future decisions.
- Focus the destination list. Identify key variables that are represented on a prospective list of colleges. Institutions may be large or small, urban or suburban or rural, colleges or universities. Plan visits to sample different types of educational environments. Also prioritize institutions that use interviews as part of their application process. An on-site visit is a tremendous opportunity to discover details to inform these later conversations.
- Plan ahead. Register online for tours and basic information sessions because these events fill early. Some colleges can even make arrangements for visiting students to spend a night in a residence hall. High school counselors may be able to connect visitors with recent high school alumni to visit with on campus. Students with strong interest in a particular field may wish to meet with a faculty member from that department. Families should allow three to four hours for each campus visit and try not to cover more than two institutions in a day.
- Get off the beaten path. In addition to the standard tour, students should spend time in the student center, library, athletic center, and dining areas. These are also opportunities to observe students and get a feel for the campus “vibe.” Do the prospective students feel comfortable in these spaces? Do they see people they think would be fun to meet and hang out with? Can the visitor imagine themselves here?
- Talk to students. Even outside of the official tour, visitors should feel comfortable introducing themselves and talking with current students. Find out what they would change about a school, and what they would fight to keep unchanged. What are major campus issues? Why did they choose this school? If they were starting all over again, would they make the same choice?
- Inquire about the campus social scene. Throughout the visit, students can keep an eye out for activity bulletin boards and student newspapers and publications. These and conversations with students can shed life on the campus social scene. Do students take advantage of nearby off-campus destinations, such as museums and concerts? How important is the Greek system? What kind of social activities exist if students choose not to go Greek?
- Write down impressions immediately. Observations that seem very strong during a visit can easily fade into the haze with time and distance, particularly if students are visiting more than one campus. Taking notes promptly serves the student’s memory and helps in preparing for later interviews—giving a student the details to convey why he or she is an excellent candidate for a given school.
Deena Maerowitz specializes in college and graduate school advising. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org