The College Visit: A Parent's Guide
Visiting colleges is a must when your student is preparing to make a decision about college. Learn some of the ins and outs of college visits.
College visits are perhaps the most important part of a prospective student’s experience. Learning about a school is important, but actually visiting a campus will really give your child feel for the institution where she will spend a greater part of her next four years.
Planning Your College Visit
There are several ways you can plan a college trip, depending on where your child would like to study. If he is considering staying close to home, you can easily take day trips to nearby campuses.
If your child is interested in studying out-of-state, college visits will require more planning. If you have the money and time (and your child has a break from school), you can take a whirlwind trip to a region with multiple colleges of interest to your child. The most important thing is to be prepared for the tour before arrival.
The best place to begin researching college tours is the internet. If you’re traveling to several campuses, many schools have suggestions for convenient and affordable accommodation. They will also have details about tours; when they leave, whether they require reservations, and what’s included.
Sometimes a dining hall lunch will be included in the tour, or panels will be held where you can ask questions of current students. If your child is pursuing a specific program or scholarship, there may be particular meetings covering these topics that you’ll want to put on your schedule.
Often you will have to make a reservation for tours and panels, so be sure to check in advance. For example, Duke University requires reservations for their information sessions and student tours during peak seasons.
College Visits By High School Year
Each year on your child's college prep timeline gives him unique opportunities to visit prospective colleges. Check out our recommendations on when to visit and what to do while you're there.
What To Expect On The Campus Tour
On a campus tour, a student will lead you and a group on a walk through the school, showing you different academic, residential and sports facilities, and often a sample dorm room.
If you have questions for the student guide, do not hesitate to ask, and encourage your child to do so as well. If your child is comfortable with it, it’s a good idea to ask more than one student on campus about their experiences, in order to get multiple perspectives.
If you have the time, you should walk with your child outside of the tour. Some schools, such as Stanford University, provide campus maps with self-guided walking tours that allow you greater flexibility than a regular tour.
Other Campus Activities To Consider
Many campuses will also allow your child to sit in on a course, which is a great opportunity for both of you to observe classes firsthand. Be sure to ask about this before entering a classroom, often there are specific classes that are designated for observation.
It’s also a good idea to explore the town outside of campus, and learn more about transportation and the nightlife in the area. Check the college website for suggestions; The University of Michigan, for example, has an online campus information center with extensive maps, museum guides and restaurant information for the town of Ann Arbor.
Some colleges will offer overnight visits, which can help you and your child get a feel for campus life both during the day and at night. Often you will have the chance to stay in a dorm room for the night, which will give you an opportunity for a closer inspection of your child’s future living space.
The College Visit: Tips and Tactics
- It’s essential your child familiarizes herself with the college’s location. She may be spending four years in this town, so it’s important that it’s a good fit socially and academically.
- You'll likely only have one chance to see a school, so know your child’s areas of interest beforehand. If your child is interested in sports, be sure to look at the athletic facilities. If he wants to go abroad, make a trip to the study-abroad office. Go into the experience knowing the questions you want to ask, and the programs you want to learn more about.
- It’s important that you give your child some space, and allow him the time to explore and form his own opinion about each school.