Spring is the time of year when many juniors and their parents start visiting prospective colleges. This is the ideal time of year to visit colleges as they are still in session and you can see authentic college life. By doing an official visit, you also let the colleges know you are serious about the possibility of attending -- this is key for competitive colleges, which now value demonstrated interest as a major component of the admissions process.
Here are some tips to help guide you on a college visit.
- Visit colleges during your spring break. Most colleges are still in session and you can see authentic campus life. If you can't visit now, try to visit during the fall. Many colleges offer under-represented students free tips. Check out an annual listing of these colleges that comes out in the late summer.
- Try to visit a variety of schools on your list. Even if timing or money is an issue, you can visit campuses locally to see different forms of campus life. Many kids are very visual and need to see a campus in real life. Visit a variety of campuses so you can see what it means to be at a large urban campus versus a small suburban one. Please just don't visit colleges that are unlikely or true stretch colleges. Try to build in visits to 50-50 or likely schools as well.
- Develop a checklist to complete. As you visit, take notes about core factors that are key to you, such as availability of particular majors, percentage of students who move off campus after sophomore year, the availability of activities on weekends, support programs for different groups of students, etc.
- Book at least a tour, information session and interview (if offered). You complete reservations online at most schools through the admissions office. Visits ideally last a minimum of three to four hours. Class visits are also available at many campuses. Check for special spring programming. Many colleges host open houses, special information sessions and extra campus tours during this very busy time of year. Visit the college's admissions website to see what it offers.
- Visit with anyone you know. If you know any adults on campus, try to meet with them, especially professors, coaches and admissions officials. If your child or you know any current students, try to arrange informal overnight visits. Spending the night in a dorm and on campus can really show a junior what that campus is like.
- Pay close attention to what campus students talk about. Get a sense of what their priorities are at each college. It's always impressive to see students who are genuinely excited about certain classes, or professors, or an upcoming internship or semester abroad. Yes, college students all want to have fun, but you'll be especially impressed by a college whose students clearly know the main reason they are there -- getting an education!
- Ask probing questions. Tours often highlight a college's strengths. Make sure you probe students to also determine some of the college's weaknesses. Every college has some and you want to make sure they're "acceptable" weaknesses for you. Do they have programs for your interests-athletic, social, extracurricular, academic and cultural? What do students do on weekends? Do they have programs to support diverse students?
- Make sure to go off on your own on for a bit. Your may want to go off with a friend or visit some parts of campus on your own. That is fine. Some joint and separate experiences on campus are just fine.
- Make some brief notes about each visit, including things you liked and things you didn't particularly like. Take business cards from any adult you meet and write a note on the back about something this adult said during your visit about the college. These notes will be helpful during application and acceptance time next year. Remember to write thank you emails or cards to anyone key you met on your trip within 72 hours of your return home.
- Use these visits to refine and expand your college list. You may find a kind of college you like, and you will need to research additional schools. Fall visits are also great and a great chance to visit some top schools or even new schools. Remember, many campuses will allow you to stay overnight, eat in the cafeteria, and visit classes. Many even pay for you to visit.