The College Search: Campus Visits

Visiting college campuses can be a key to finding the right fit for your child.

May 12, 2010 7:35:40 AM PDT
While this may be prohibitive if all of your child's college choices are thousands of miles from home, we found that visiting college campuses with our daughter and son was extremely valuable in helping them come to a good decision as to which schools were the best fits. Furthermore, when it comes to which kids are offered admission, some schools give preference to students who've demonstrated genuine interest with a trip to campus. In the very least, I'd recommend visiting the final three or four choices, once others are ruled-out.

All colleges and universities have multiple open house opportunities throughout the year, and many will be happy to schedule special visits if you can't make it during the official visitation periods. If you can, though, I would try your best to hit the open houses, because it's on these days when faculty, administrators and students are expecting visitors and make themselves available. Make sure you sign the registration sheet provided so that the university has a record of your visit.

Open houses generally follow a familiar format, and can actually become a little repetitive after a while. Usually, the visit begins with a presentation by an admissions officer who talks for about an hour (with some Q & A included). He or she will discuss the school, its traditions, the majors, scholarship opportunities, the application process, what they generally look for in any application essays, and the difficulty of gaining admission.

Tours can be telling

Next, you'll be invited to go on a guided tour of the campus, usually led by a student. These last about an hour, and are the most varied and often informative portion of the day. You should feel free to ask candid questions during these tours, because unlike what you might expect, you often get candid answers from these kids. After all, they are not the administration, and aren't even necessarily all that interested in cheerleading for their school. Most are simply earning a little extra money as tour guides, and are happy to give you an honest impression of the place. Now is the time to ask about the condition of the dorms, what the food is like, how difficult it is to sign up for classes, the quality of the faculty, and the propensity of alcohol, drugs, and partying on campus. Is there a racial divide? Are the students snobs, or are they a likable bunch? A good administrator will also be fairly open about these issues, but we usually found that talking with students was pretty enlightening.

Getting more from your tour

If you read a university's website carefully, you may also be able to plan a visit when the specific "school" within a college that interests your student is also holding an open house. For example, with my son, we tried to visit when the engineering college of a given university was open to visitors. We found this especially illuminating. Often, in this smaller environment, we had the chance to speak with several of the faculty, as well as students in the major, both undergrads and graduate students. This was generally a much more personalized and useful exchange.

Finally, there is usually an opportunity to talk directly with a financial aid or admissions officer about the prospects of your child being admitted and what sort of aid might be available. Sometimes, these meetings helped. My daughter learned she was in good position for both admittance and scholarship money at one such meeting, and the school wound up coming through with both. I can remember a similar meeting involving several of my son's choices, and in all cases, hints that acceptance and money were available to him were born out. Other times, these meetings didn't really get us anywhere, but you'll won't know until you try, and I'd recommend having at least a casual conversation about whether your student seems like a good fit at every school you visit.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: Submitting Applications, When Will I Hear If I'm In?, Wait List, When Must I Decide?, What If I Have Trouble Deciding?, Merit Aid, Need-Based Aid, Federal Need-Based Aid, Can I Ask For More Aid?, 529 Savings Accounts, Myths About The Cost, What Is Upromise?, The Best Way To Pay, College Troubles, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface

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