One of the questions that comes up over and over is when should we do college visits, and how important are they?
Here’s the thing, not everyone has the time or money required to visit every school on their list. Sometimes I think it’s more for facebook bragging rights than for meaningful visits to colleges that might be a good fit for your child. These days colleges and their admissions departments have amazing websites, social media accounts, virtual tours and there are plenty of ways to show demonstrated interest without a physical visit. But, it is great to get an idea of what schools are like with a physical visit. There are so many colleges and universities in California; you can get an idea of different kinds of schools by visiting a state, UC, private college, etc.
Here’s my advice: start now. I don’t mean go plan a visit to 12 schools, but start visiting colleges. It’s never too early; next time you visit family in D.C., maybe take a visit to George Washington, American, Georgetown, University of Maryland (College Park), or one of the 81 (!) 4 year colleges in Virginia. Going to the beach for a Santa Barbara or San Diego vacation? Visit UCSD, San Diego State, USD, UCSB or Westmont. You don’t need to do a full college tour with a freshman or middle schooler, but I do think it’s great to expose your kid to different college campuses so they have a visual idea of what college is like. Teenagers have a hard time envisioning a life 2-3 years ahead of them, so the more they have tangible examples of college, the better they will be. And, yes Stanford is right here and a great school, but it’s not necessarily the best option for many kids and may set unrealistic expectations in your student’s head.
Juniors and Seniors should be thinking about the following: (and, there’s nothing wrong with visiting colleges after you’ve been accepted.)
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I like a big or small school?
- Do I know what I want to study (Liberal arts vs.tech vs. trade)?
- Do I prefer a public school or private school?
- Do I want to stay close to home or go far away?
- Do I want a university vs. a college?
If you can, try to visit a few different types of schools so you can see what each place offers.
You’ve booked your college tour. Here are the questions to ask yourself when you are touring:
- Do I like the type of campus (size, location,etc)?
- Do I see myself here?
- Can I relate to this community?
- Is the academic rigor of the school a good fit for me?
Specifics to think of about the physical campus:
- What is student life like
- How do students get around, i.e. is it a walking campus, what are public transport options like, how easy is it to get on/off campus
- If you have a particular interest (sports, music, arts) or a major you might be interested in, make sure to ask where those are. Often at big schools, the buildings can be miles away from the central campus.
- Make sure to visit:
- Food areas
- Common areas
- Sports facilities, if this is important to you
- Take pictures, notes and listen carefully to the tour guide.
- This last one is hard for many high schoolers, but talk to students outside of your tour. While you’re walking around campus, ask students questions about their studies, campus life, etc. You’ll find that places where student engagement and happiness is high, students are eager and excited to chat with prospective families about their experience.
I was fortunate enough to take a college trip with my dad the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. To this day, it is one of the most special memories I have with him. I was one of three kids, my dad worked a lot, and I was at boarding school, so I didn’t get a ton of 1:1 time with him in high school. A week of driving around the eastern seaboard, sometimes staying in places neither one of us had visited, was the best. Yes, I remember every college tour we went on, but my point is, have fun. Eat meals in the college towns, find the local ice cream shop or delicacy that area is known for, and embrace the experience.
If you’ve recently visited campuses, send us photos! We’d love to see where you all are going.