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How to Have a Great College Visit

When Elizabeth was a junior in high school, she and her mom, Nancy, began making college visits. They traveled to Elizabeth's number one choice first. After visiting two other schools, she changed her mind. When Nancy asked what caused her daughter to change her mind, Elizabeth said it was because she didn't like the big blue dumpsters used on campus at her school of first choice.

It's important that parents and their college-bound teens are "on the same page" when it comes to making college visits!

Why Are College Visits Important?

Would you buy a house or even rent an apartment without first going to see it? The school catalogs, brochures, and Web sites are designed to give you the very best impression of the schools they represent, but you might find some things to be completely different when you visit. Tell your teen that deciding to attend any school without making a personal visit is like saying "yes" to a blind date that could last four years! Walking around the campus, talking to students and administration, and visiting classrooms and dorms will give teens strong evidence that a particular college is the right place for them. Guidance counselors instruct students to narrow their college search down to short lists of three to five schools that really interest them. If possible, try to visit all the schools on your teen's short list and make comparisons.

Getting Ready to Go

You can make college visits anytime during your student's junior and senior year, but be aware they can be costly in time and money. Many schools require an interview with prospective students. Combining the interview and your visit will be more cost effective. The college's admissions office can verify if an interview is required when you call to arrange a date for your visit. To make the most of your time and money, think about waiting until your student has taken the SAT or ACT. Knowing the scores will help admissions personnel better inform your teen of available scholarships.

Call at least two weeks in advance of your prospective visit. If you and your student have decided on what needs to be discussed in scheduling a visit with a college, encourage your student to make the call. However, do not allow your student to call if he is not adequately prepared for what he needs to ask. Explain to your teen that the first impression begins with the first phone call.

Visiting during a week in the fall or spring semester will give you the best view of the campus and allow your student to attend some classes. Although summer may be the best time for you to schedule visits, it is the worst time to get the best feel for the college's true "personality." Spring break during your teen's junior year is a good time to start the visiting process. Check to be sure the college you want to visit is not on spring break at the same time. It's not too early to do this during the summer before their junior year and the summer after their junior year.

It is easy to get your visit accomplished in one day, but an overnight stay will add more information about nightlife on campus and in the surrounding community. Your student may want to stay overnight in the dorm if the college allows it. Encourage your student to call ahead and schedule the following:

  • A group or individual campus tour
  • Appointments with someone in both the admissions and financial aid offices
  • A visit with a professor in your teen's major department or with a coach in a particular sport
  • Classes your student can observe
Questions to Ask

Talk about questions and concerns ahead of time and create a parent's list and a student's list. Naturally, you will want to ask questions about financial aid and get applications for scholarships and loans, but also consider the following:

  • What percentage of the students live in dorms?
  • Does everyone go home on weekends?
  • What do students do for fun on weekends?
  • What is there to do in the surrounding communities?
  • How many churches are within driving or walking distance?
  • What is security like on campus?
  • What are the dorms like? Are there co-ed dorms?
  • Can freshmen bring cars? If not, how do students get around campus?
  • What is the student/faculty ratio?
  • How many student organizations are there?
  • What opportunities are there for spiritual growth on campus?
  • What religious groups are represented on the campus?
  • What is the alcoholic beverage policy on campus?
  • What are the deadlines for financial aid applications and admissions applications?

While on each campus, collect materials for future reference. Get business cards from college personnel. Pick up brochures, financial aid forms, and work study forms. Look around for the school newspaper, newsletters, and activity calendars. Check out bulletin boards for information about student life, internships, and jobs. Get the scoop from studentsâ??don't be shy to ask why they chose the school.

Preparing for the Interview

Not all colleges require an interview and some offer it as an option. The interview is designed to help the college get to know your student better. Many teens do not know how to "sell themselves." Explain to your teen that impressions will be made by the way they dress, sit, speak, and look the interviewer in the eye. Ask other students and parents of college students who have been through an interview to tell you what questions they were asked. Assure your teen that it is normal to be a little nervous. Help your teen feel comfortable about answering questions in the following areas:

  • What are your strengths? What are your future goals?
  • Why are you interested in the college?
  • What were your high school activities?
  • What do you want to know about the college?
  • Why would you be a good "fit" for this school?
Parent's Role

Understand that your student may be more overwhelmed than you are with the whole process of getting into college. It is better to get your visits in early because battling "senioritis" while trying to make college visits is a challenge.

If your student cannot find time before a college visit to talk about what to ask and what to say, use your flight or driving time to help her make a list. Use the transportation time after the visit to compare notes and hear what your student is thinking about each college.

You have the opportunity to teach your teens important life skills as they organize brochures, make lists, think of questions, meet deadlines, attend interviews, and visit campuses. As always, we need to parent for today and for tomorrow.

Ellen Oldacre Dunn is author of several books and a contributor to the college preparation book, Transitions: Preparing for College, compiled by Art Herron. She is the mother of two college students.

Used by permission

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