As I wrote recently, “you really do have to go to know“: College visits are a vital step in narrowing down a student’s college search and truly understanding the schools on his or her “list.”
There are all sorts of college campus visits. There are very intentional, structured visits, and there are more casual and spontaneous wanderings around campus. There’s even the “drive-by.” And each of these campus investigations can be useful.
The Quick, “Drive-By” College Visit
If a drive around campus is all a student does to decide on a college, then they may be disappointed in their final choice. But if a student or parents pay attention to what they see, I think a “drive-by” can be a very helpful part of the process of getting to know both that school and the possibilities of college life. A college “drive-by” might come up in the middle of a family road-trip, within a day spent checking out several colleges near home, or anytime you don’t have the time to do more.
However you get there, a “drive-by” can be profitable. With a little pre-planning about what to look for, you or your college-bound kid might get useful ideas about:
- Student transportation on campus
- Apparent size of the student body
- Food services around campus
- Parking availability
- Athletic facilities
- Access to recreation
- Student attire on campus
- Displays of school spirit
- New facilities
- Cleanliness/appearance of campus
- Intangibles – like evidence of happiness among students
This list includes just a handful of the impressions that I get when I drive through a college campus the first time or two.
The Casual, Self-Guided College Visit
Of course, each item in the list above can be examined even better with a little more time. Even an afternoon of self-guided exploration can provide a great “first date” with a school as your student ponders a more substantial relationship.
Often it is a casual wandering around a campus that first captures the interest of a prospect. Maybe a high school student has played sports at the college facilities, maybe they have had a family member attend there and have attended campus events, or perhaps they have heard about a school and just want to see it for themselves.
If possible, getting the feel of campus culture over time, with multiple visits like this, can be powerful. Seeing it on school days and not just during games, or even when nothing much is going on, can give a helpful impression when a college shopper is trying to decide if the school “fits” them.
The Classic, Intentional College Visit
The method which gives the most specific information to a student and their family is the planned, intentional campus visit. This type of visit is usually coordinated by the Enrollment Services or Admissions offices and may include an interview about specific admission questions, a meeting with Financial Aid, a campus tour, and perhaps sitting in on a class or meeting with a department representative.
Different schools do the “official visit” in different ways. Some of the visit components may take place in small groups – such as a tour of the campus – while other meetings may be one-on-one to cover specific questions about admission requirements and financial aid. Some colleges have programs where prospective students can spend the night in a dorm and go to class with a host student. Usually, those deals are offered to prospective students that have shown a high level of interest.
Tips for the Intentional College Visit
“Official” campus visits usually involve a group of high school students, a family, or a student exploring solo. I’ll conclude this article with a few helpful tips for each situation.
Quick Thoughts on Group Visits
From what I’ve seen, viewing a college campus with a group of classmates is only helpful if the college shopper is serious about gaining an impression of the school. The group visit can be a lot of fun, but it will only be the most useful if the student has interest and pays attention.
A few tips I give concerning group tours include:
- Stay near the front so you can hear what the tour guide is saying.
- Listen to the answers to the questions being asked.
- If no one else is asking questions, you be the one that does.
Quick Thoughts on Family Visits
Here’s a little advice on family visits. If the person who is the potential college student seems disinterested or unprepared for the tour, unless they are very young, it sends a message of caution to the college personnel.
When parents take more of a “backseat” on the visit – and the high school student takes charge – it is clear who is interested in coming to the school. An exception to this is with the Financial Aid office, where more parental involvement is understood.
When a Student Visits a College on Their Own
College reps have told me for years that the level of interest shown by a high school student about their college, and even about attending college in general, is important when the representatives are deciding who gets their maximum consideration. This applies not only to a student’s visit to the college campus, but also to making contact at a college fair, or when a college representative visits at the high school. Nothing gets the attention of a college admission rep like a curious high school student who is personally involved in researching their college options. A student who takes the initiative in planning for their future makes a very positive impression.
No matter how a student visits a college or who is on the visit, the goal remains: To gather information to help in determining the right college to attend. The student who is invested in the college visiting process will likely be more prepared to handle the adjustments to higher education that lay ahead. Going for a visit plays an important part!