Make the Most of a College Visit

campustourIf you have a student in their junior or senior year of high school right now, you will likely be spending some of your summer touring colleges. Visiting a college is absolutely one of the best ways for a teen to decide whether a school is right for them or not. It can be a fun bonding experience for families, as well. Here are some tips to help make the most of a college visit:

Research First

The biggest waste of time is to visit a college that is an obvious poor fit for your teen, so do a little research before you decide which colleges to tour. Begin by helping your teen to:

  • Make a list of potential colleges in which they are interested. If your teen doesn’t know how to start, suggest they solicit input from their school guidance counselor.
  • Make a list of priorities for their college. They should list anything that is important to them, ranging from academic programs to distance from home to class size to athletics. They should include on their list any majors they are interested in and any passions they have, such as athletics, music, drama, art, or community service.
  • Once you have a list of colleges and a list of priorities, review each college’s website together to determine if the school has what your teen is looking for in terms of academic and social offerings. Eliminate the colleges that do not match your teen’s priorities and plan to visit the remaining schools.


Find Out Visiting Guidelines

Once you have decided to visit a college, review the website for their tour information, visiting guidelines, schedule, and suggestions. Here are some things to look for:

  • Some colleges require advance registration for tours or information sessions.
  • Review the college’s schedule. While summer can be an ideal time to travel so that your teen isn’t missing school, your teen will be able to get a better feel for the college while it is in session. Additionally, you should make sure they are offering tours and that they don’t have other events at the time of your visit.
  • Review the college’s recommendations. Some colleges recommend setting up an interview. While this may feel intimidating, every student should take advantage of this opportunity! Interviews are an excellent chance for teens to learn more about the college and to share information about themselves that is difficult to get across in an application. You should help your teen prepare for the interview by developing a list of questions and 2-3 unique points that your teen wants to express about themselves. As colleges become more and more competitive, interviews are a great way for teens to differentiate themselves and to show the college that they are seriously interested.


Spend Time on Campus and in Town

While tours and information sessions are very helpful in evaluating a school, these events will not let your teen know if the school is known for a party atmosphere, if students leave campus on the weekends, if there is diversity among faculty and students, or if the town is welcoming to students. It is very important that you allow your teen some time to visit the campus and surrounding area. Ways for a teen to get a feel for the college are to:

  • Go into the student center and see what activities are going on.
  • Start a conversation with a current student and ask about student life and the school’s culture.
  • Have lunch in the dining hall. Most admissions offices have complimentary tickets to eat a meal in the dining hall. Note whether students are lingering over meals or just running in and out.
  • Wander around the town to see what the surrounding area is like.
  • Explore academic departments of interest to them. Talk to professors or sit in on a class lecture to get a feel for a program and explore what opportunities would be available.
  • Pick up a copy of the student newspaper, which can offer an uncensored take on the issues facing students and the college as a whole.
  • Visit the school’s financial aid office to ask questions and discuss possible opportunities.


Reflect on the Visit

The most important thing your teen can do while visiting a college is to take photos and notes. This may seem like too much work, but after visiting a couple of colleges, your teen’s memories and experiences will begin to fade and your teen will likely not be able to remember what he/she did or did not like about each school. This is especially true if you plan to visit one school, wait a couple of weeks to visit another, and so on. If your teen can snap a few photos during the visit and then take just 10 minutes after each visit to record a quick list of pros and cons, they will be in a much better position to rank the schools they visit. In addition, their notes can help them be prepared for application essays asking why they want to attend.

Final thoughts…

Parents are an important support for teens in making this big life decision! One final way to help your teen make the most of any college visit is to encourage them to keep an open mind as they explore their opportunities. For example, remind them to judge each school based on his/her own observations rather than one factor, such as a bad tour guide. Finally, use these trips as a springboard for family bonding. Carve out some time to do something fun together! It’s a great way to connect with your child before they will soon leave your home.

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