As you and your child begin to plan for their future the time for college visits will be on hand before you know it.
Rushing to see schools at the last minute or putting off visits until the spring of the senior year is never a good idea. In order to know where your child will best fit, the time to visit campuses of the schools that he or she is interested in would be at the latest, the beginning of junior year.
If you have the opportunity to do some visiting in the summers of 9th and 10th grade as well, that is excellent. If you plan to put off the heavy duty college search until halfway through high school then the junior year is when your visits should begin.
Prepare for Your College Visit
The earlier you plan a visit, the more time you have to truly study options when it comes to college. Taking care of visits early on in 11th grade will free up time in the 12th grade to revisit your child’s top choices.
Prepare a list of questions in advance
While you visit a particular campus, come prepared. Make a list of questions you have that specifically pertain to that college and ensure that they are all answered to your complete satisfaction. If the tour guide does not have the answer you are looking for, ask to speak to an admissions representative. You should leave the campus feeling as if you learned everything you wanted to know about the particular school.
Here are some examples of questions to ask:
- How many students complete their degree in four years?
- How many students complete an internship?
- What percentage of graduates are employed in their field after graduation?
- What accommodations do you make for students with special needs?
- Does the cafeteria offer options for diet restrictions?
Get off the beaten path
Campus tour guides and admissions representatives are there to sell you on all the best their school has to offer. While they are quite knowledgeable, its good to talk to others to get a different perspective. Strike up a conversation with a student or stop to ask them a couple questions about their experiences.
Visit the library, have lunch in the cafeteria, and pick up the college published newspaper, literary magazine or any other student publication that is available to you. Check out the postings on all the bulletin boards to get a sense of what type of clubs, events, and activities are sponsored on the particular campus. This will give you a sense as to the “life” of the school.
Get a sense of your child’s chosen academic program
While meeting with Admissions and Financial Aid representatives are a very important part of a college visit, it is also a good idea to talk with a representative from the Department in which your child will most likely study. Talk to the Dean, if possible and if not, ask to speak with a professor from the department. It is also beneficial to talk with any academic advisors that would work to create your child’s college schedule.
Many parents plan college tours for the summer months when their child is not missing school. That is important, but it is also important that you and your child get a true sense of the academic rigors of a particular school.
If you can arrange for your child to sit in on a class, even in a summer session the benefits would be tremendous. An overnight visit in a dorm might cause some panic in parents, but it is also worthwhile because your child will then get a sense of how he or she might adjust to life in a dorm.
Get any special needs addressed
If your child has any health issues, a destination for the visit should be to the campus clinic, where you can speak with representatives about health issues in more detail. Students with special needs should also inquire as to the availability of tutors, flexible testing options, and the ability to have a dorm to yourself if the living situation is a concern.
Consider an overnight visit
Many colleges host overnight visits on campus for prospective students. These dates will most likely be very limited and if you do not sign up early, you could get blocked out of a schedule overnight visit. So if the college you are planning to attend offers this experience, it is best to schedule it right away and set it up.
Once the visit is scheduled, the admissions office will pair your child up with a student for the night. They will most likely have one-two meals in the campus dining hall and will also get another tour of the campus; this one given by the student host. This is an opportunity for your child to connect one on one with his or her host and ask any questions about the college. If there is a sport or activity that really holds their interest, mention it in advance of the visit and he or she may be able to go to a practice or meeting.
Of course, your child may also be presented with the opportunity to attend a party or other social event on campus as well. If that is the case, just remember to remind your child to stick with their host for the visit during the duration of the party and to always monitor their behavior. The last thing you want your son or daughter to do is to leave an unfavorable impression on their host and/or the admission office.
We suggest your child pack flip-flops or water shoes; remember showers and bathrooms are shared on most campuses. Make sure he or she also brings a few changes of clothing because you may not know until you arrive what events he or she may be asked to attend and what he or she is expected to wear at certain activities.
Obtain contact information for the student host but try your best not to call and/or text your son and daughter once you drop them off for the overnight. Of course, reaching out in an emergency situation is more than acceptable, but constant checking in is not. Give him or her the freedom to truly experience a night away from home as a college student and wait until he or she returns safely to you the next day before asking for feedback on the visit.
After the Visit
No matter how short or long your visit, the final thing on your checklist should be to follow up with a thank-you note that specifically mentions what you found most exceptional or exciting about the visit. A personal touch goes a long way and in the long run, may influence the admissions decision. Don ‘t miss that chance to make an amazing impression!
Ask your child their thoughts and impressions they had of the school. This may cement in their mind that this is the best school for them. Or it may help them decide it’s not a good fit. Either way, the experience will give them a taste of college life and help them with their transition later on.
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