A High School Parent’s College Visit Checklist
In addition to being busy maintaining a high GPA, many college-bound students have schedules packed with activities. Depending on what stage of the application process students are in, their schedules are jammed with prepping for tests like the SAT, participating in extracurricular activities, building a college list, crafting an essay, and securing letters of recommendation. Consequently, when it comes to time-consuming activities like college visits, parents and students need to maximize their efforts to make the most of every moment and avoid adding stress at this already tense time in their student’s academic life.
Limited Benefits of College Visits for Admissions
The belief that visiting a college will improve a student’s odds of acceptance is often overstated. The fact is that the effect of a college visit will vary depending on the school; for example, schools like Dartmouth College clearly state that a student’s completed application is all the demonstrated interest required while their Ivy League peer Yale also doesn’t track campus visits or contact with admissions staff for use when evaluating applications.
Even if the school your student is applying to does value demonstrated interest, there are numerous ways for a student to do this without visiting the school’s campus. Attending a local college fair, taking a virtual tour, or contacting an admissions representative are great ways to demonstrate interest that don’t involve excessive—and often expensive—travel.
The Benefits of a College Visit to Students
Perhaps the most notable of the benefits for students is that it allows them to get a real feel for the place. Only so much can be gleaned from a school’s website and brochure—walking around campus, interacting with students, reading the college newspaper, checking out the bulletin boards, and eating in the cafeteria all give a prospective student a first-hand idea of what life will be like at a particular college.
In addition to getting a feel for a school’s campus, students can also get an impression of the area around a college and make sure that it meets their personal needs and wants. Committing to a school also means committing to a location, so it’s important that the surrounding shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and outdoor recreation align with a student’s lifestyle.
A student’s personal experiences at a school can be invaluable when it comes time to apply. Students will have gained insights into the culture of the college and have knowledge of what the institution values (research, religion, or sports, for example). These impressions can be beneficial, allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of an institution in a college interview or if writing a supplemental college essay.
Because parents are investing a considerable amount of time, energy, and often money into college visits, it’s imperative for them to make the most out of their investment. Keep reading to learn how to maximize your college visits as we take you step-by-step through the process—and for even more information for parents about college visits, read our article Parents, Make the Most Out of College Tours With Your Teen.
What Parents Should Do BEFORE a College Visit
Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” This is particularly true of college visits.
Doing some basic research on colleges and universities before scheduling a visit can avoid wasting time on schools that don’t match your student’s interests. Is your college-bound student planning on studying mathematics in college? If so, you should only be visiting schools that offer mathematics degrees. Likewise, if your student is interested in going to school in the city, there’s no sense in visiting rural schools.
Scheduling activities ahead of time is a great step for ensuring that you’ll be able to see and experience everything on your list when traveling to a school. When planning a visit, look for special prospective student days offered by many colleges which feature extended tours, dorm visits, and the opportunity to sit in on classes. If a special prospective student day isn’t offered or doesn’t work with your schedule, sign up for an institution’s tour or information sessions in advance. If you would like to tour the dorms or view a class, be sure to secure a spot before traveling.
In addition to scheduling institution-led activities in advance, also make a list of must-see spots to include on your visit. These can be locations both on- and off-campus that are important to your student and can include everything from the local downtown area to popular hiking trails to the football field to the school’s research lab.
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a college visit or overwhelmed by the massive amount of information being thrown at you. When researching a college, creating a list of questions both you and your student would like to ask before visiting gives your visit structure and makes sure you leave having gotten all your questions answered. Dividing your questions into categories like housing, campus safety, academics, and extracurricular activities provides further structure.
Even if the local college isn’t on your student’s list of likely schools, paying it a visit can be beneficial to other college visits. Consider it a dry run for visits that will require more travel in which you’ll gain insight into general college life and learn what your student is looking for in a school.
You won’t want to visit any colleges without reading our article Don’t Visit Any Colleges Without Reading This First.
What Parents Should Do DURING a College Visit
If you and your student are planning on visiting multiple schools, it’s a good idea to take notes and pictures of your visit—multiple visits can blend together in your mind and notes are great for creating clarity. Try to record details that your student will find interesting later on after the excitement of being on campus has waned. Another thing for parents to note is the reactions of their students to particular parts of the tour, so you can discuss it later.
Since it’s your student, not you, who will be attending college, encourage them to take the lead in asking questions from your pre-formulated list or that arise during the tour. Encourage your student to get the contact information of anyone they spoke with, such as the tour guide or professor whose class they sat in on. Just because you’re playing more of spectator role, however, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you would like answered.
A more passive role during the tour also allows parents to make observations about the college that their students might miss. Look around and note the mood on campus—are students gathering in common areas? is there a community spirit? do the students seem happy? can you picture your student here? are all questions worth asking yourself.
In addition to asking questions of the tour guide, go out of your way to encourage your student to interact with other people on campus. The student leading the college tour is, in a way, an extension of the school’s marketing department; speaking with a few students on campus will offer a few different perspectives. Schedule time to meet with an admissions rep or a faculty member, and gain even more viewpoint about the institution.
Make time to visit the local area. Although students will spend the majority of time on campus, the local city or town will play a large role in their lives for the next four years. Check out popular student hangouts—whether they’re coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, or malls. If your student has other interests, investigate those as well; for example, if your college-bound student loves movies, make sure there’s a theater nearby.
What Parents Should Do AFTER a College Visit
One of the best things a parent can do after a college visit is to simply sit down and listen to your student’s impressions. Listen to what your student liked and what they didn’t—try to let them offer an unfiltered opinion before sharing your own thoughts and concerns. Also, encourage your student to write down their takeaways as it will help them later on in the decision-making process.
Did you get all of your questions answered? If not, make sure to follow up and get those questions answered. Check the college’s website to see if the information is readily available. If not, email the tour guide or admissions counselor you spoke with (you got their contact information, right?) and have them direct you to a person who can answer your questions.
Speaking of following up, send a personalized thank you email to anyone who took the time to speak with you. This is both polite and a great way to make a connection with someone at an institution of interest that you may be able to use as a reference for future questions or advice. It also keeps you fresh in the minds of people on campus and demonstrates an interest and enthusiasm for the school.
Lastly, if you have more college visits planned, take a few moments to reflect on what you thought were the most impactful parts of your visit and adjust future visits accordingly.
Read our blog What To Do After You Visit A College to learn more about how to act post-college visit.
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