Harbingers of spring, instantly recognizable, they appear yearly in groups on every college campus. Their leader is a confident young adult with the amazing skill of walking backwards. Ducks returning from lands to the south, you might ask? Hardly, what you are witnessing is the start of the campus visit season. As a college consultant who has visited close to a hundred campuses and moreover a parent who has participated in this rite of passage with my own three offspring, I will share some tips with you to help make campus visits productive and stress free.
Tips for Freshman/Sophomores There is absolutely no better way to decide whether a school is the right match than to set foot on its campus. Begin visiting a few colleges as early as freshman/sophomore year of high school. The purpose of these initial visits is to get a feel for the types of schools out there and assist in formulating needs and preferences. Choose a few schools close to home of different sizes from a large state university to a smaller private liberal arts college. Utilize family vacation time to informally visit colleges.
Tips for Juniors
Junior year is the time to hone your college choices. Try to have most visits completed well before the fall of Senior year when the application process begins in earnest. Visiting when school is in session is an ideal way to see the campus in action. At this stage identify what factors are important to you in selecting colleges. Focus on the following: academic majors and degrees offered; location; size and cost.
Finalize a list of schools to visit. If you have schools that are very similar and time does not permit, pick one school and chose to visit the others later once accepted. Call, email or schedule your visit online with the admissions office since many schools require a reservation to take a tour or attend an information session. If optional or mandatory interviews are offered schedule those as well.
Carefully map out a logical route covering no more than two schools in one day.
Upon arriving on campus, sign in at the admissions office. Colleges keep track of the number and type of contacts students have made. Contacts demonstrate an interest in attending and may make a difference in an admission decision, all other things being equal. It is appropriate to send a thank you note to the information session leader as well as the student tour guide.
Information sessions last about an hour. Admission staff members present an overview of the school history, physical facilities, admissions criteria, academic programs, clubs, activities, residential life, academic support and career services, and financial aid. Bring a notebook or checklist to jot down information and impressions.
Next grab your walking shoes and a camera. Led by current students the campus tour is an excellent way to gain a fresh perspective on what campus life is like from a peer. A typical tour includes visits to a residence hall, library, student center, dining facilities, recreational complex, and classroom buildings.
Have a meal in the cafeteria to evaluate the food and watch the student interactions. Arrange to sit in on a classroom in a subject of interest and/or meet with a professor. Tour or drive around the surrounding town and area. Read the campus newspaper and bulletin boards. Walk around on your own and talk to students about their experiences.
Tips for Seniors: Utilize the early fall to make any last minute visits. Once you receive your acceptances take advantage of the opportunity to revisit schools during accepted student days. Arrange an overnight stay in the dorms. Review all of your options with a critical eye and get answers to any last minute questions you have.
Tips for Parents: Put your high school student in the “driver’s seat”. Let them take the lead and ask the questions they need to make an informed choice. Your teens will appreciate you for hanging back a bit and not being the overbearing or dorky parent. Trust me, someone else’s parent will inevitably ask your question, sparing your student the “embarrassment.” That is not to say don’t ask any relevant questions. Just try to relax and enjoy the experience of watching your child take the next step on life’s path.
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