Why Fall Campus Visits Are So Important

Most juniors begin college campus tours in the spring and find out that they really should have started earlier. Why the rush? It is virtually impossible to visit 8-10 colleges in a space of 3 spring months, especially when those 3 months are also consumed with test prep, extra-curriculars, and keeping up grades.  Placing this kind of pressure on students is precisely what independent college counselors and savvy parents try to avoid. So let's break it down.

~ Why does my teen need to see so many colleges?  There is nothing better than walking around a campus, sitting in an actual class, listening to students in the cafeteria, checking out the dorms, speaking with professors, to give a prospective student a real sense of what that college is all about.

Yet, this is far from the only reason to see as many schools as possible. In the past three years, college admissions reps are placing increasing importance on "demonstrated interest." Colleges want to see and hear why a prospective student wants to attend. These days, an applicant must prove why a particular college is such a good fit for him/her; students must 'demonstrate' their 'interest' in a very personal way.

--- Demonstrating interest:  The insights, impressions, recollections a student feels on a college visit are crucial to expressing substantive "demonstrated interest."  The more personal details a student includes in an essay or email, the more genuine that student's interest becomes. It's almost as if the prospective student needs to gather firm evidence to make a solid case to support his/her desire to attend. The application alone is not enough anymore.

~ How do I select colleges to visit?  Because the high school counselors typically do not begin the college list process with juniors until January, students and their parents are left on their own to do so.  College guidebooks are a good start, especially those categorized by state. There are enough colleges within a 2-hour drive from any major city to explore. Criteria to consider when developing a preliminary college list include location, size, weather, and academic majors.

Independent Counselors - Local college counselors are a tremendous resource for families pulling a list together in a hurry. Counselors know off-hand the small, medium, and large colleges nearby as well as which focus on liberal arts, business, sciences, etc. Counselors also provide families with:

  • ·         specific instructions to streamline college website research
  • ·         key questions to ask on a tour
  • ·         important steps to take before and after the campus visit to build connections

~ Do I really need to go along on the visits? Yes. Many colleges have activities and discussions specifically for parents. Moreover, parents are most likely to be the note takers and record keepers and writing down as much as possible is critical.

--- How much time should we plan to spend at each school?  For all of the above-mentioned reasons, the more time, the better. A two-hour jaunt to "give it the once over lightly" defeats the purpose. I recommend allotting a full day at each campus. It's the un-scheduled time spent hanging around the quad, the non-scripted moments when speaking with students at the Starbucks or recreation center, and the 'alone' time the prospective student spends simply walking around and FEELING the social vibe, that become most valuable. Only the student can gauge the personal connection he/she feels to a campus and this usually requires time.

*Extra Pointer:  Some colleges arrange discount rates at nearby hotels so it's worth calling the admissions office to ask about this.  Amtrak offers a special discount for students traveling to colleges for tours. www.amtrak.com/buy-one-get-one-50-off-with-college-campus-visit