When the oldest was still in diapers, we started a college fund for him. From the moment he began to toddle about the house, the fantasies of where he might attend college flitted through our minds. Then the worrying began. We worried about costs, ACT scores, college preparatory classes and dual enrollment. But through all of it I was looking forward to the day we would drive our little boy to his first college visit.
Visiting my future college was the overriding factor in my decision to attend my alma mater. Being on campus can give you a feel for the atmosphere and allow you to see how students interact on a daily basis. There is only so much you can learn about a college online. Visits and conversations with former and present students can provide the clarity that you need to make such a weighty decision. Here are a few things we learned from visiting colleges with our soon-to-be college freshman.
Plan Your Trip Early
Planning your trip in the fall or spring of your student’s junior year is optimal. The fall of the senior year will also be beneficial. However, if you’re planning on visiting more than one college, give yourself that extra buffer of time.
If the college is nearby, you might be able to schedule your visit around a sporting or drama event. Or, if the college is in a metropolitan or historical area, you might plan a day when you can sight-see in town. On one of our visits, we were able to make a stop to visit Grandpa.
However, if the college you’re visiting is several hours by car or a plane trip away, you might consider taking a vacation. A close friend of mine chose to schedule an entire vacation around her daughter’s cross-country college visits.
Perhaps an entire vacation to the college town is more than you want to expend. In that case, try scheduling in a “pit stop” on your vacation. A little out of the way stop is considerably less expensive than an entire trip devoted to a cross-country college visit.
When To Plan Your College Visit
Choose to schedule a visit when school is in session. I know this may seem obvious, but often vacation times will line up with times the school is also on holiday. Make sure you choose a time in which you can see the students interacting and possibly have a chance to sit in on a class. Most schools will give you the opportunity to attend a class in your student’s chosen field. For this reason, you may not want to choose a Friday to visit. Often classes are not scheduled for Fridays and students may have a shorter day.
Most colleges now have a High School Day. These are days specifically set aside for prospective students. Though this experience may not be as individualized, it can make the visit easier to navigate, and you will be able to meet other students who are considering attending.
Contact the School Counselor
Using the school’s website is one of the easiest ways to schedule a visit. Most colleges have online forms which make the process simple. After submitting a form, you will usually be contacted by phone or email by a representative of the school. The counselor will give you the details of your visit including maps, directions on where to park and meet, and an itinerary.
At this time you should mention any specific requests you have. You may want to meet with a financial aid counselor, a professor or dean in your child’s chosen area of study or the athletic director. The counselor will be able to add these appointments to your itinerary.
What You Should Plan to Do and See During Your Visit
The obvious answers are to visit the academic buildings and meet with admissions counselors. However, there are a few other opportunities you might want to schedule into your day.
Meet with a financial aid counselor or attend a financial aid meeting. Asking for a financial aid calendar will help you to meet deadlines for the FAFSA and scholarship opportunities. The financial aid office will also be able to help you determine the overall cost of the school, including room, board, fees and books.
Sit in on a class in progress.
Meet with a professor and ask questions about classes and off-campus opportunities.
Tour the dorms and speak with an R.A. (Resident Assistant) or Dorm Parent.
Tour areas your child may be interested in such as the theater, library, orchestra, fitness center, computer center, sports arenas or intramural fields.
Ask about summer scholar opportunities. My son attended an accelerated class at a nearby college during the summer. The program was designed for prospective students who were entering their senior year of high school. Several fun activities and an intense work schedule kept him busy for ten days, but also helped him to discover what it was like to live on campus. He came home with a very different perspective than when he left.
Wear comfortable shoes. On our first college visit, my husband and I overdressed. After walking the full length of the campus, my feet were killing me, and I was ready to toss my shoes in the nearest trash receptacle. Don’t dress to impress. Whether it’s a hot August day or a chilly January morning, dress so that you are comfortable. Your feet will thank you.
What You Should Do After Your Visit
After your official visit is over, take some time to wander around the campus. Visit areas that weren’t on the official visit, or you would like to see again.
Visit the dining center during meal times. This will help you get a feel for the social atmosphere of the school. It also will give you the opportunity to make small talk with current students and find out what they like or don’t like about the school.
Immediately after leaving the visit, make a pros and cons list. Jot down anything concrete or abstract that comes to mind. After a visit to a college that my son had been very positive about, we discovered that he wasn’t a fan anymore. As it turns out, the long travel time and the remote location of the college had turned him off. When you’re planning on living somewhere for four years, it’s important to like your surroundings.
College Visit Checklist
I’m a sucker for a good checklist. Having an organized way to look at prospective colleges helps to narrow down the schools that most appeal to your child. Here are some you might find useful when you visit a college campus.
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