Many seniors and their parents are taking advantage of open house events on college campuses. Ideally, the time to visit colleges was probably in the last year, as seniors are now time-impacted with the pile of admissions and scholarship applications stacking up.
However, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks are coming up — and those could be good times to visit colleges you haven’t yet seen.
There’s plenty you can do to set up a visit or make the most out of it.
First, the setup:
1. Find the Prospective Students or Visitors or Tour link on the college’s website.
2. Some colleges have you complete a short online application for a tour. Others want you to call to set that up.
3. If you are asked if you want to visit certain departments or meet with certain individuals, take advantage of that opportunity.
4. Also, it pays off to visit on a day when students are on campus, so that you can get a feel for what campus life is like. Ask if you can sit in on a class in your major area of interest. (Parent, once your senior sees how challenging courses are at a university, he or she will pour more into their senior year academics!)
5. Some colleges have overnight programs–definitely worth the extra money and time, so you can get a sense of what life will be like there next year.
In our older son’s senior year we visited Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. We had spent many hours in the car getting there, and yet after five minutes and before we’d even parked, he said, “Okay, I’ve seen enough.” My husband and I were a little stunned, but he’d made up his mind that Cal Poly was the school for him. He did get a great education there, but we should have arranged a formal tour and prepared a long list of questions for a guide.
To prep for your trip:
1. Make a list of sites on the campus you want to visit. Include a dorm, the cafeteria, the recreation center, the athletics facilities, a typical large lecture hall, a typical smaller classroom, the library, other campus notables, and the student union and store (you may want a sweatshirt to take home!).
2. Make a list of questions for your tour guide or host. The answers to a lot of questions can be found on a college’s FAQ page or onhttp://www.collegeboard.org, but sometimes it pays to hear answers from student tour guides themselves. Keep in mind, however, that it’s their job to sell their college to prospective students and their parents.
Some of those could be the following:
– What’s the most popular major and why?
– What is the campus like on the weekend? What do students do then?
– Where is the best place to study?
– Which is the best dorm for the serious student?
– Should I bring a car — and why or why not?
– What kinds of free tutoring is offered — and where?
– How many hours a day will I be studying on weekdays and the weekend?
– How and where would I get academic counseling each semester?
– What can I expect when I visit with my professor during his or her office hours?
– Will I be taught by professors or by graduate students?
– How do I make connections to play intramural athletics or to join a club?
– What’s the best way to get a job on campus? Where are the best-paying jobs?
– What opportunities exist for internships and study abroad? What percentage of students take advantage of those programs?
Information about class size, average financial aid packages, teacher-to-student ratios and such are usually available on the college’s website, but you could include those as well.
On the day of your trip:
1. Wear study shoes. College campuses are HUGE!
2. Take an umbrella if rain is possible. When I took our youngest on a three-day college tour from southern to northern California, it poured rain on the last day. We were unprepared and didn’t see as much of the Stanford and Cal campuses as I had hoped.
3. Plan to have lunch on the campus. Send Mom and Dad to the student union shopping while you pretend to be that cool new freshman. Try it on and see how it feels!
Oddly enough, the one campus out of six that our older daughter did not visit ended up being the one that she chose. While the adjustment was initially challenging, she ended up loving her college, profs, and friends she made there.
It seems that some students and their colleges are a perfect fit, like a hand into a well-crafted glove; other times, some tailoring is required. In most cases, though, trying on a college first makes sense. If you can’t visit, check the college’s website or You Tube for virtual tours.
What colleges have you visited recently?