As the school year winds down, we are approaching an important time of year to visit colleges. Because finalizing the college list for rising seniors is critical and timely, visits are helpful to determine if you may wish to apply, which has the additional advantage of demonstrating interest in the school. Why timely? If we think about the first round of deadlines for early decision and early action starting October 15 or November 1, and taking into account all of what goes into completing a common application and other school-specific application forms, students have less than 20 weeks to take on quite a bit of work. Most importantly, because supplemental essays take up a lot of time and are contingent up on both college and major selection, the sooner we know the list, the sooner students can start chipping away at their tasks. Which brings us to the visit!
Key parts of a visit. Most parents know that visits comprise a tour and information session. Worth doing? Of course. However, take note when you or your child has a conversation that is noteworthy, one whereby the admission officer or college representative provides a business card. Send that thank you email the same day! Building rapport with the school and showing etiquette and follow through begins with this first step. Later, when applying, students can send a friendly note to this person acknowledging their status as an applicant, and reminding them of the role they played on their journey to college. One never knows when one may find a champion within a school!
Other elements of a college visit. Beyond the tour and information session, major-specific or college specific (college of education, business school, college of communications, etc.) visits are key. While overall university statistics and characteristics are interesting, when attending most students view college through the lens of their major, and aspects like class size, setting, and culture emanates from their school or college within the university. Many colleges and universities offer department or program related tours. For rising juniors with a sense of clarity regarding their major, you can also reach out to department heads or coordinators to explore whether you can set up a phone call or in person meeting to ask further questions. A word of caution: visiting colleges too young may not be fruitful, particularly if the student is not comfortable asking questions and engaging with staff. Typically, sophomores and juniors are better suited to visits, particularly juniors, as they may be more confident, have a better sense of self or personal agency, and most importantly, you as parents will have data via the PSAT or SAT to use as one of your college list filters. You can save a lot of time and money by not visiting schools that are unrelated or not a good fit with your son or daughter’s intended career path, or are too select. If time and resources are limited, consider visiting different types of local colleges to get a sense of perspective before beginning any type of regional or national tour!
What you need to know. This question is key. Any student visiting a college or university should exhaustively explore the main website, the undergraduate admissions website, and ideally, major-related websites. Think about what matters to you and whether this university portray attributes that you value. Having read this content, what else do you need to know to decide if you will apply? What really matters? To answer this, draw up a list of college attributes that you will use like your college Brita filter, letting that clear list pour through so that you can feel confident that any school you visit is a good fit in terms of median SAT/ACT scores and GPA, location (for school and in terms of internship access and later employment), size, priorities, and composition. Therefore, when you visit, that time will be worthwhile, and your conversations and interactions with that college, informed and mindful.
What else to do. Many universities and colleges offer a plethora of visit-related activities, although most other elements pale in comparison to the tour and information session. But, if time permits and if the student is compelled, consider other offerings! Some may offer overnights and class visits. Some have sporting events, school concerts, or other social gatherings. Whether you see value in these activities is up to you, and a key barometer to decide this is whether that activity will yield helpful insight that you feel is essential to determine whether to apply or not.
Keys to a good visit. Remember that a majority of juniors and many sophomores will be visiting colleges on many of the same holidays, and so many tours and information sessions fill up quickly! Here are some good tips to consider:
- Plan your trip well in advance, particularly if you plan to reach out to professors or department representatives related to your potential major, as such visits may take some time to coordinate!
- Try to only visit one college per day. Taking on too much may increase stress, and this experience should be fun!
- Save your highest priority colleges for later when you are more experienced with touring, and can best represent yourself.
- Take notes: write down important facts, observations, and key conversations so that you can reference them later.
The Checklist Itself. The College Board, the nonprofit that administers the PSAT, SAT, and AP, has one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive checklists for parents and students. I strongly recommend that you click the following link and read through their recommendations for a successful visit. Here is the link. Stay tuned for a custom checklist soon to be posted. Remember, on the road to college, identifying what you want as a learner, in a community, and what you hope that college can do for you in terms of your future career requires a lot of planning and time. Given the costly investment of college, and how critical it is for shaping the trajectory of your future, the college visit is an important time worthy of thoughtful planning. This time is also important for bonding as a family and hopefully, leveraging the college planning process as a time to teach independence, personal agency, and to prepare your son or daughter for this next important chapter in their life.