Please welcome Erika Coplon of InsideTrack (private college counselors) who offers these tried and true suggestions when visiting college campuses. I remember doing her suggestions when I looked at colleges and would add a few of my own:
- Talk to older siblings of your child’s friends who attend college and arrange to meet for a meal or a short tour when visiting their campus. There is nothing like a friendly face with some “inside” information to make the college seem warm and fuzzy. If this college is a good fit, then this person might be willing to host a “sleepover.”
- Road trip with friends! I remember taking road trips with friends to visit a bunch of the UCs (University of California) that were less than 3 hours away. It was a nice day off school that counted as a school back then plus we could share the driving. I also remember, more importantly, that we could all assess the schools together. We noticed different things, for example. And when all the schools started to blur together, I found it helpful to be able to a friend, “What was that school that had the blah blah blah again?” Someone would remember! We visited U.C.L.A., U.C. San Diego, U.C. Santa Barbara, and U.C. Irvine as a group. Note that it’s a lot more fun and less stressful than visiting with mom and dad! Of course, back then, we all learned to drive at fifteen and a half as we took Driver’s Ed at school so we could drive decently by the time we were Seniors.
- Visit your top choice colleges more than once. The admissions department can arrange a “sleepover” visit if you don’t know anyone there. You can be sure that they are tracking the number of times that you visit if you get them involved which they use to gauge interest in their school!
- Ask for an on-campus interview if you are visiting while also applying to college. Why? If you don’t live nearby, your interview will be with an alum. This can be good and bad depending on that person’s experience with interviewing. On-campus interviews will be done with someone who assesses college prospects for a living! AND, if you really hit it off, they have more clout because they are in the building all day long.
- Use online resources to find colleges that are the right fit for you. I found these one: College Search, College Board, College Confidential. Here’s an article from NPR. What other resources do you suggest?
- At the end of the day, it is all about fit. What is the right college for your child versus what is the best college my child can get into? Think about class size. A smaller college with less than 500 students per class year is more manageable BUT tends to be more cliquey with a Big Man/Woman on Campus Vibe. A medium-size college with less than 2000 students per class year means that you will never know everyone in your class which makes having a Big Man/Woman on Campus kind of thing impossible. A large college with, say, 35,000 undergraduates, means that you can walk around campus ALL DAY and never run into someone you know. Location. Urban, suburban, or in the boondocks? Urban means that there is life beyond campus whether for dating purposes or just a mental escape and typically means there is mass public transportation so you won’t need a car. Suburban might mean a car is nice to have but be sure to ask about parking. Boondocks means you can focus on college, but will that be too intense?
- sign up for admission activities, like campus tours.
- meet students, professors, and coaches.
- book flights, hotels, and car rentals.
- get campus maps, parking info, and more.
What to Find Out When Visiting Colleges
Visiting college campuses is a key step in finding the school that is the best match for your teen.
- Encourage your student to do some homework before their visit. Your teen should read up on each school in a couple of guidebooks and visit the school websites to get a general overview and flavor of the school. Both you and your teen should write down a few questions you have about each campus so that you make sure to get them answered.
- Take advantage of the scheduled admissions events. The guided tour, led by a current student, an information session, run by an admissions officer, are must-dos when you’re on campus and often require advanced reservations.*
- Sit in on an actual class. Get a feel for academic life on campus. Try and sit in on a similar class at each school so that you can accurately compare the level of teaching and student interaction. Make sure to go off the beaten path. Wander around the campus on your own. Grab lunch at the student union and get a feeling for the student body. Take a look at the flyers and postings and pick up a copy of the student newspaper.**
- Check out the larger community. You’ll want to spend some time in the nearest town, getting a sense of the resources and relationship between the community and the college. At InsideTrack, our College Admissions Coaches work with students to ensure that they are prepared to maximize their time on college campuses. They help students develop a list of questions for each school, create a game plan for touring the campuses, and prepare for admissions interviews. The college visit is an essential part of finding the right college fit, and an area where college admissions counseling can provide expert guidance. InsideTrack Coaches partner with students to gain clarity on schools that are the best match, and then work to help them shine on their college applications, all while building the skills necessary for success once they begin their freshman year.
- Enter to win InsideTrack’s My Dream College Scholarship Contest! InsideTrack College Admissions Coaching can help your student make their dream happen – whatever it may be. One lucky winner to InsideTrack’s My Dream College Scholarship Contest will receive a $1,000 cash scholarship and four free months of InsideTrack College Admissions Coaching ($596 value). With extra money for their dream school and College Admissions Coaching to help them get in, your student will be set up for a great first year at college – so enter today!
Notes from me, PragmaticMom:
* Realize that the students (or sometimes adults) giving the tours are “professional” tour guides. They are being paid to do this and they are naturally good at it. This is the “official” version that puts their school in the best light. They are selling! **When I visited colleges, I’d slip into a large lecture class and sit in the back to check it out for a few minutes. To be honest, I’m not sure what the actual value of sitting in an entire class is. I think there is more value in finding ways to talk to students on campus. For example, I liked checking out dorm rooms. I’d find a kid about to go into their dorm and say, “We’re visiting colleges and wonder if you’d mind if we took a peek at your dorm room.” Now you have a few minutes to see the dorm room and ask this nice person a few questions like:
- How many people do you live with?
- Do you have to clean your own dorm room?
- Who cleans the bathrooms?
- How’s the food?
- Where are you from?
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