What’s the best way to learn if a college is going to be great fit for your teen?
How can you help your teen choose a college that personally inspires and excites them–rather than choosing a college because that’s where his or her friends are going?
How can you get a good idea if a college will be a springboard for your aspiring young adult so you can feel more confident in the investment?
…By making college campus visits!
Campus visits can answer these questions quickly and clearly for both you and your teen. Your teen can get a true “feel” for what it would be like to stay in the dorm, to use the labs, library, gym and other facilities, to feel at home given the size of the student body, to hang out on campus and around town. Rather than imagining college based on media hype or his or her friends’ opinion, your teen can see for him/herself.
Plus, as a parent, you can help your teen compare and contrast college options since you know your teen’s preferences and tendencies so well. Walking on a campus, touring with a student guide and speaking with faculty can offer assurance in ways a brochure or website never can.
How do we decide which schools to visit if my teen has a list of 10 or more?
If time and travel allow, start with 3 colleges that provide a broad overview of the types of schools available–a small, private college, a mid-size private or public university, a big public university. These will give your teen a good overview of the wide range of options they have for schools. Once they decide (after visiting!) whether they prefer small, medium or a large student body, your teen can start to narrow their search and spend the majority of time looking at colleges in that size range.
Should we make a campus visit during spring or summer break?
Many families plan college tours during spring or summer break since it’s the most convenient time with school calendars. Certainly, a visit to the campus during a break is better than no visit at all.
Summer campus visits can be most important for high school juniors/rising seniors. As juniors are finalizing their college list, a summer campus visit can be considerably helpful for writing applications in the fall. Likewise, given how busy the fall of senior year will be, it’s usually not enough time to go on a campus visit, especially if a teen plays a sport or participates in clubs like marching band or Model UN.
However, it’s ideal to plan a visit when school is in session. Being able to see college students “in their natural habitat” will give your high schooler an even greater understanding of what their future could be like at that college. With students and faculty on campus, your teen can even sit in on a class lecture, see a sporting event or marching band practices, check out the library in use, schedule a meeting with a coach or professor, etc.
A fun activity for you and your teen to do would be to plan to eat in the dining hall. You may not have the time to go out and find a restaurant during the day of the tour, so the dining hall would be a great way to find out what the food is like on campus. Check for cleanliness, the variety of quality foods, and accessibility. (If the campus is big, there may be multiple dining halls to consider.)
Encourage your teen to talk with students while visiting the campus (not only the student guide). It can be inspiring and helpful for your teen to hear what college is like directly from a student! This may be the most important part of your campus visits and an opportunity that too many college-bound students do not take advantage of. Teens can ask them any questions they have or about their general experience at the school. (Your teen may get more nuanced answers than from tour guides, which can help broaden their perspective on the student community at any given campus.)
Perks of planning ahead
Another benefit to arranging a college visit while school is in session is that you can call ahead and schedule a tour led by a current student. I recommend reserving your college tours at least 30 days in advance so that tours are not booked by the time you arrive.
Not only is it helpful to have a guide to lead you and answer your teen’s questions, but this “demonstrates interest”. By demonstrating interest in a school by making an effort to visit, scheduling a tour, asking questions and following up with a thank you note, your teen can signal their interest to admissions. This can help when it comes to reviewing your teen’s college application if an admissions officer is making a final decision between an applicant who has shown interest in attending versus one who has not.
In addition to the admissions office tour, you might also want to book an appointment with the financial aid office. Learning what options are available to your family could make a huge difference when the time comes to choose a college.
Get my free guide
Throughout the year, I visit dozens of college campuses and learn something new every time. With each visit, it’s important for me to write notes so that I keep track of all that I learned. Please download our Campus Visit Checklist so that your teen remembers what they learned and keep track of how each college would be a fit for their goals, interests and needs.