College Visits 101

The college applications are in and the FAFSA is filed, so what should you and your student do while you wait to hear about acceptances and financial aid awards? Many families choose this time to visit or re-visit their top choices for next year. Here’s what you can do to make the college tour a valuable experience this winter.

Determine your itinerary for each trip.
The number of colleges you visit in a single trip depends on a number of factors, including the time available to you and your student, transportation and lodging costs, your and your student’s tolerance for multiple visits, and campus schedules.

Try to make a logical plan for visiting multiple colleges in a single region or trip to avoid backtracking, extra expenses or lack of time to see everything you want to. Also consider your student’s current commitments, such as class projects or extracurriculars, that may be distracting while he or she is traveling.

Check each school’s admissions website for blackout dates, campus breaks and scheduled events to help you choose an optimal date for each.

Contact each college.
Your student should be able to find the admissions officer responsible for your home region online and investigate the options for visiting. Some things to consider:

  • Is a scheduled visit day for scholarship recipients, accepted students or high school seniors the best venue for you and your student?
  • If your student hasn’t been accepted yet, does the college consider interest in its acceptance decision and how can your student best demonstrate that while on campus? If an interview is required or optional for acceptance or for a scholarship opportunity, is there an opportunity to do that?
  • Would you prefer a group campus tour and information session or a more individual experience if available?
  • Is your student able to attend an academic class, spend the night with student, or speak with club or activity leaders?
  • Will your student want to meet with an athletic coach, a professor who offers research opportunities, an academic sponsor or other faculty?
  • Do you and your student want to investigate resources for any special needs, such as dietary concerns, physical limitations or learning styles?

Allow your student to investigate and schedule any meetings or tours.

Sign up as required.
You may need to reserve a spot for a campus tour, informational session or special activity. Many colleges offer an online signup; you or your student may need to call or email others. Make sure you understand the process for joining a tour, meeting with faculty or students, lunch at a dining hall and other activities.

Determine what to do if you miss a scheduled time due to travel delays, weather or illness.

Do your homework.
Research statistics and information on the colleges’ websites, read reviews and student comments on social media, and compare offerings with tools like College Navigator. By making an effort ahead of time, you’ll know more about what to expect and what to look for. In addition, it frees you and your student to gather information that’s not readily available elsewhere.

See what to ask and what not to ask on college visits.

Be ready to create a record.
Depending on the number of colleges on your list, you and your student may easily start confusing or forgetting information. Be prepared to help with a notebook or notecards, by snapping photos, and bringing lists of questions you and your student have discussed for each campus.

After a round of visits, allow your student some time to digest information and form opinions before you ask for his or her thoughts about a campus or share yours.

Enjoy your trip.
Consider your student’s frame of mind when visiting colleges and be prepared to duck out early, graciously, if your student is overwhelmed or doesn’t feel a campus is the right fit. Find appealing activities to do in the surrounding communities if you have the time to provide a break from the tours and to experience life around campus.

Consider a respectful game of campus tour bingo to prevent tours from blending together.

By: Iowa Student Loan