For many families, the college tour is a rite of passage. These visits are often determined by an applicant’s school schedule, parent availability, financial resources, and family commitments. Colleges offer a wide variety of visit options – Open Houses, Diversity Days, Group Information Sessions and Campus Tours. Given these many opportunities, we’ll zero in on one particular visit option, the one that you take advantage of during the school year.
Many families lean towards visits during vacation times, on the weekend, or on holidays when, typically, people are off work. These visits do not, however, come close to giving a prospective student a real look at life on a particular college campus. This is why we strongly advocate for a visit during the school year, on a regular school day. Most high schools will allow students some time off for college visits, but if that is not an option, talk to your guidance counselor about a reasonable solution.
This regular school day visit is important for the following reasons:
If school is in session, you will get a realistic idea of regular, everyday student life. You’ll see students walking between classes, eating in the cafeterias, sleeping on the green, studying in the library and just enjoying each other’s company. Ask yourself if these scenes feel comfortable and stimulating.
During the school year, it’s possible to attend a Group Information Session and participate in a campus tour with a current student. Make sure you register for these
ahead of time, typically online. Each university will show off the new science building, the updated gym, or the enlarged library on this tour. You can also look at the flyers and announcements posted all over campus and pick up the college newspaper. Prior to the walking tour, there is almost always an In-formation Session led by an admission professional who will give you the school’s ‘big picture’, provide some valuable statistics, and answer general questions about the college and the admission process.
Meeting the experts is possible on a regular workday. There are three categories of ‘experts’ with whom you can meet during a school-year visit.
If possible, schedule a one-on-one appointment with the admission counselor who reads applications from your school. Take a short resume with you that s/he can add to your file and be prepared to ask 3-5 questions that reveal both your strong interest in that school and give you more information about your possible choice/s of major. Important – go into that conversation alone! You are the prospective student (not your parents!) and you want to show confidence and maturity. And always send a quick thank you email after your conversation. It matters!
When the student tour guides are introduced, check if any share your possible choice of major and join that tour if possible. Walk up front next to the tour guide, and ask as many questions as you want. Remember, these are students who love their school and know it well, and telling others about their college is exactly what they love to do.
Share email addresses so you can ask any further questions that come to you on the drive home.
Paying for college is a huge issue for parents and during your weekday campus visit, it is a great idea to meet with a financial aid representative, to ask your many important finance questions. Making an appointment ahead of time is usually required.
Personalizing your visit is often possible on a regular school day. You can check online or call your college’s admission office and ask if a more personalized visit is an option. During these days, you may meet with a student in your possible choice of major, attend a class, speak with a professor and for some, sleep overnight in the dorms. Some colleges offer specialized overnight programs; check the admission website for visit options.
If you have to attend one of the large open day visit programs, formulate your questions ahead of time. You’ll be in the company of hundreds, and you need to really review opportunities to get your questions answered. Do the tour of course, but look for specific academic presentations, class visits, student panels and make sure you eat in the dining hall – good food is important.
Talk to students! Whichever visit program you are able to attend, seek out students. You’ll see them in the library, the dining hall, walking around campus and chatting with their friends. Summon up all your courage and tap some on the shoulder – ask them if they are happy and why, where else did they apply, why did they choose this particular school, and ask them about their living environment. These first-hand conversations can make or break your impressions of your possible new academic home far more than the weather on the day of your visit!