The ABCs of College Visits – Part One

This is the first in a 3-part series about college visits.  Today, I am posting A through H in The ABCs of College Visits.

A –         Accept that your child may not have the same impression of a school that you do.  He or she may love what you hate or hate what you love.

B –           Be prepared to have everything start blending together after you visit a few colleges.  Whether you schedule a public visit day or a private visit, you will hit pretty much the same things – tour, highlights of what the school offers, financial aid discussion.  Focus on the distinguishing factors.  Look for the things that one school has that another doesn’t.

C –          Counselor meetings are a good idea, especially if your child is a senior.  Your goal is to get some information more personalized to your child.  A good counselor should ask about your child’s test scores, grades, type of classes, activities, etc. in order to get a feel for your child’s fit at the school and what he/she should be eligible for as far as scholarships, athletics, special programs and more.

D –           Don’t schedule back-to-back visits unless you have to.  As I said above, things start to blend together anyway after a few college visits. (Which school had the fitness center with the indoor track?)  If you keep the visits farther apart, you are more likely to keep the campuses straight in your memory.  That seems obvious, but I didn’t realize the difference it made until we hit 3 schools in 2 days last summer (that was rough, I don’t recommend it!).

E –           Early Start – Get an early start on visiting schools. We started with our first visit the summer before my daughter’s junior year of high school.  After that, we tried to schedule for school days off and free Saturdays, which there weren’t a lot of, during her junior year.  That took care of four more schools.  Then we hit 4 more in the summer before her senior year.  There are still 3 schools that she is applying to that we haven’t visited.  Two are farther away.  At this point, the visits won’t happen unless she is admitted and receives scholarship offers that are competitive with the other schools.  Time flies the last two years of high school and most kids are involved in so many activities that take up their free time.  I can’t stress enough that the earlier you start looking the better you will feel about the college choice process, especially if some of the schools you are looking at are farther away.

F –           Find the best time to discuss impressions and likes/dislikes with your child after the visit.  On the way home in the car may not be the best time, especially if your child has just sat through a full day of college information.  Let your child bring it up on the way home if he/she wants to.  Otherwise, wait until after your child has a chance to decompress.  Once you have discussed the visit, be sure to document your likes and dislikes and overall impressions on the college search spreadsheet and color-code the school according to the key.

G –          Go back to the schools you like more than once.  Looking for a college can be similar to looking for a house.  The first time you visit a house, you focus on a few things that stand out, both positive and negative.  You may love the house the first time, but when you go back again, you notice new things and you may leave with an entirely different feeling than you did the first time.  With a college, your first visit gives the overall impression for your child – “Yes, I like it here and I could see myself going here”, “It’s ok, I might want to go here,” or “No, I definitely don’t see myself here.”  It is the initial weeding out process.  Anything that is a yes or a maybe needs a more in-depth look.

H –          Have a plan for how many schools you can visit during the year.   There are pros and cons to summer vs. school year visits.  During the summer, you are more likely to get a small group or individual tour and information session.  This can be nice for asking questions and talking about specific topics.  What you miss is seeing the student population on campus.  During the school year, you get to see how the students utilize the campus, there are usually larger group presentations and tours, and you usually get to have lunch in the cafeteria.  My recommendation is to start off taking advantage of visit days during the year.  Do 3 – 5 of these.  At that point, your child will probably say something like, “I can’t listen to any more of those presentations.  They all sound the same!”  That’s when you may want to switch over to individual visits.  You should have a better idea of what type of questions you want to ask and what you are looking for.  You can focus in on those things and avoid all the extra “fluff” in the presentations.

Look for I through P in The ABCs of College Visits in my next post.

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