The college admissions process is in full swing, and it’s time to plan some college visits! Sounds fun, right?
It can be, but what do you need to get out of the visit to make an informed decision about whether or not it stays on the list?
It’s all about the fit
Parents, please, don’t let memories of your college experience, good or bad, interfere with the mission at hand. When students hear, “This is going to be the best time of your life”, or “I would go back in a second,” it sets them up for disappointment. Nothing can live up to the glory days of going to college in the 80’s! That was you and this is your student.
What’s most important is finding the right fit for your student. Not necessarily the most prestigious, but the right fit.
The world has changed, and they need to find their own happiness. A happy student is a successful student.
Students have a lot more on their plates nowadays. Each year of college costs a small fortune. Fit is critical.
So, how do you get it right? What are you looking for on those visits?
Research is a foundational piece of the college admissions process, and it’s important to find good, unbiased information.
Start with searching “Common Data Set” to get all of the statistics for a college. You can view the percent of students receiving financial aid, class size numbers, graduation rates, and so much more. Statistics give you an unbiased snapshot of the raw data without the allure of a great website, an admissions publication, or a cool building a tour guide happens to point out.
Define the “Musts”
Brainstorm with your student what are the “musts” that a school needs in order to stay on the list.
- Does it need to have a specific major or a variety of majors to explore?
- Will a writing or math center or other supports be necessary?
- Good teams to watch?
- Specific religious affiliation?
- Is your student more successful in smaller classes or will they thrive in a large lecture hall environment?
- Have they always wanted to study abroad in Australia?
- Does s/he looking to be far from home or closer?
- Does the campus need a nice aesthetic?
You might be surprised at the answers. Will students roll their eyes and think that parents are weird for asking them questions? You bet. It’s how it works with adolescents.
The questions will be worth it in the end, and your student will thank you for it…in 20 years or so!
Bottom Line. You and your student will have a higher quality college visit, and a vastly more productive college admissions process, the more that you know ahead of time.
The Campus Tour
Now that you know what you must have, make sure to book a guided tour during your college visit. These are generally led by current students who work for the college and are very knowledgeable.
Take photos of things on campus to remind your student of which college had what. It gets confusing after the 7th or 8th college.
Ask your guide about study abroad experiences or internships, whatever interests you.
By the end of the tour, you and your student should have picked up on the vibe. And if you feel a positive vibe, don’t let poor weather or a mediocre tour guide dissuade you from keeping a school on the list.
Expert-Level Hint. If you are going to see multiple colleges in one day, make some labels with the student name, address, email address and cell number. It saves time and ink when filling out questionnaires.
Here’s where it gets fun
Now that the tour is over, and the vibe is good, the fun of a college visit starts:
- Grab a student newspaper, and have a meal in the dining hall.
- People watch. Ask your student if this is a place where they can see themselves.
- Ask students walking around what they like about the college.
- Find out if students stay on the weekends or do a lot of them leave (especially important if the college is further away from home).
- Look at bulletin boards and high traffic spots, and look over the activities advertised to see what happens on campus outside of the classroom. Do these things interest your student?
Before you drive away
When you get back to the car, jot down some notes about your college visit quickly before everything begins to fade. The notes should be meaningful and concise. Some things that you might consider:
- Are the “musts” what you wanted/expected?
- What was one thing that you liked, and one thing that you didn’t like?
- What was something unique to the college?
- Did you like the food at the dining hall?
- Can you see yourself going to the college and becoming part of the student body?
- How was the culture, the ambiance, the vibe?
- How excited are you about going to the college?