Prep Now to Make the Most of College Visits
Oct 01, 2017 11:11AM
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Yesterday they were in kindergarten. Today, in a time lapse that rivals the speed of light, they are studying for SATs and browsing through college catalogs.
While it’s never too early to start thinking about majors and potential colleges, many teens begin the college search process before and during their junior year of high school. Often, visiting a college campus will provide a prospective student insight about student life, whether the size of the school is desirable, whether a city or rural campus is preferable and more.
“Visits are to help inform a decision: Do I want to learn more? Do I want to apply? Do I want to attend?” said Lauren Lieberman, director of college counseling at Shady Side Academy.
“Campus visits really help students connect with a university to determine the right fit for them. From classroom sizes, to the type of setting, students have different types of needs that can be best addressed through a campus visit,” said Amy Becher, vice-president of enrollment management at Chatham University. She added that ideally, students should visit a variety of colleges from rural to urban, both public and private, because they might be surprised at what feels right.
While brochures may look enticing, an in-person visit is preferable. “It’s important for students and families to visit a college or university firsthand to really feel the energy and what it is like to be part of that college community,” said Joell Minford, director of admissions at Point Park University.
In the case of Point Park, for example, “Often people are intimidated by a school in a city, but when they come to campus, they see that it’s a consolidated campus,” Minford continued. “Everything is close by and it has all of the traditional items that you’d expect at a rural campus, but it’s available in a city setting.”
Lieberman agreed. “There is no amount of reading that can help you understand what being on a campus with 50,000 kids feels like,” she said. “Or the feeling on campus the week before a big football game.”
Another reason why college visits matter is that universities track if a student has come to campus. “If colleges see that a student has visited campus, history has shown that that student has a higher likelihood of becoming a student in the future,” said Minford.
College visits are often student-led and take prospective students and their families around campus, visiting both classrooms and dormitories, and perhaps stopping at the dining hall for lunch. While most colleges offer campus visits during the regular academic calendar year as well as over the summer, if possible, try to visit while college is in session.
“This will enable a student to have the chance to see the ‘real’ campus, and to possibly make the most of their visit by taking advantage of attending classes, meeting with faculty, and chatting with students,” said Loren Gordon, director of college counseling, Central Catholic High School.
Becher suggested that families watch for events offered during the university’s school year, such as a general open house or a visit day geared toward juniors. Also, “Individualized weekday visits can be customized to meet student interests and needs,” she said.
There are no rules as to how many colleges to visit. Minford recommends going to at least the top three to four choices, but if a family can’t squeeze in a visit, many colleges offer virtual tours.
“Some families choose to visit the colleges in closer proximity before applications are submitted and then wait to visit ones at a greater distance until an admission decision has been received,” said Gordon. And if a student happens to gain entrance to a school that he or she has not had a chance to see in person, Gordon said that it is absolutely necessary to make a visit before deciding to commit.
For both students and parents, advance planning is key, as well as communicating what they want to accomplish during the visit, said Becher. “We seek to personalize your visit in order to meet your needs; make sure you provide input on what you want out of your visit,” she said. “We can help you get in front of the right people to ensure your questions are answered and that you make the most of your time on campus.”
To maximize the experience and make it fun for the whole family, Lieberman suggested that if families have the time, they should take advantage of exploring the city or town in which the college is located. After all, if your child might be spending the next four years of his or her life there, you may as well know where to find the best pizza.