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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

College Crash Course Part 15: Visiting Colleges


College visits are an important part of choosing the right school. They help your child get a feel for the campus, the students and professors, and the overall atmosphere of the institution. Visiting colleges inspires your child to finish strong while looking forward with anticipation to the day he moves into the dorm.


Start Early

It’s best to visit all your child’s colleges of choice during his junior year. That way, if your child is accepted to several schools and is still undecided, he can make return visits his senior year to help solidify his decision.

Schedule Online

It’s a good idea to plan your college visits. Universities have online scheduling for their campus tours, but be sure to schedule your visits early as spaces do run out. If your child already knows what he wants to study, call to schedule an interview with the head of that department. A friend of mine’s daughter is interested in studying piano in college. She got a head start and scheduled a tour with her college of choice’s music department the summer after her 9th grade year. She interviewed with the dean of music and got a lot of important information needed to help her prepare for the school’s audition requirements for admissions. Music and sports are two areas that often require specific requirements for entry. 

See the Students

It’s important to visit during the school week when classes are in session and students are on campus.  Here’s why:

We were very interested in Furman University when my daughter was applying to colleges. However when we visited, the students appeared somber and serious as they moved about the campus. The tour director focused on Furman’s academic achievements and was quite serious herself.  Since my daughter is exuberant and vivacious, she immediately sensed a disconnect with the students. On our way home, we visited Clemson. The minute we stepped out of our car, a whole different vibe greeted us. During the tour, it became evident that Clemson was a school dedicated to school spirit and F. U. N. Our tour director was jovial and animated as he told story after story of the entertaining and exciting traditions of the school. My daughter ended up at the University of Georgia, which was perfect for her—a happy mixture of serious and fun.

Choose Walking Shoes

Though some tour guides drive you around campus in a cart, most campus tours require a lot of walking. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. The best time to visit campuses is in the early fall or spring when the whether is nice outside.

How about a Road Trip?

Many families plan college visits around vacations. This is an efficient use of time and money and enables the entire family to be part of one of the most important and exciting decisions of your child’s life. Why not plan a “college road trip” and visit all your child’s colleges of choice in one week? It’s a good way to focus in on the various schools, comparing and contrasting the positive and negative qualities as you travel to and from the campus visits.

Don’t be Shy!

While on campus, be sure to take time to talk to other students, asking them about their experience at the school. Do they enjoy their classes? How is the campus life? What’s their favorite thing about the school? What’s their biggest complaint? Do they plan to transfer to another school? If so, why? You’ll be so glad you took the initiative to talk to people who are neutral and aren’t trying to convince your child to come to the school.

Read Up

Be certain to find a student newspaper and have your child read it from cover to cover. He’ll get a real flavor for the campus, students, and attitudes. He might find important hidden information that isn’t advertised by the school like crime reports, student concerns, and issues—as well as lifestyles, events, and policies. You may be able to find the college’s newspaper online as well.

Note It

While there, and especially if you are visiting several other schools, be sure to take notes. It’s easy to forget important information, especially if your child has scheduled multiple college tours in one week. 

Go to Class

Most college tours will give you the option to attend class. Choose a course in your child’s interest. This can be very inspiring for your child! It will also give you greater insight into the school, the professors, and the character of the students.

Question Time

Before your visits, help your child formulate important questions to ask about the schools. Write the questions down so he can ask them during the tour. What does he need to know about housing, dining, academics, extra curricular activities, parking, transportation, or sports?

Ask what they are looking for on the college application. What matters most to them during the application process? How safe is the campus? What is the neighborhood surrounding the campus like? Every student has different needs. Be sure you get clarification on those particular needs:

Is your child athletic? He should ask about club and intramural sports. Is your child introverted and used to a quiet environment? Ask which dorms are traditionally quieter and which are more active. Write it down! It’s easy to forget all those dorm names. Does your child want to be in a Greek organization? Ask about the membership process. Does your child long to travel? Ask about the study abroad programs. Is your child academically motivated? Ask about the honors program and its benefits.

Money Matters

If you are in need of financial assistance, schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor to discuss scholarships and ways to increase your financial aid package.

Almost There

This is a very exciting time in your child’s life! You and he are heading down the home stretch of his education. Make each college visit an adventure, enjoying this unique time with your child. This could be one of the last opportunities you’ll have to engage with and build into him before he flies the coop. Be intentional, but have fun on the journey!