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College Admissions: 5 Must-Knows About College Visits

Monday, January 28, 2013


February is a key month for college visits, particularly for high school juniors. Get the most out of your time on campus with these five must-know tips. Photo: Canisius College.

With February and spring vacations looming, families are flooding college campuses for tours and information sessions. If you have a sophomore or junior in high school, now is the time to visit! Think it’s too early? Families who delay face a rush of stressful visits in the fall of senior year, and this rarely helps a student make the right choice. And, if you plan to take advantage of early action and decision programs, most

deadlines are in November 1, leaving little time in the fall of senior year for touring campuses. So, before you head off on spring visits, here are a few things you need to know.

1. Always take an official tour and sit in on the information session.

This is not the time for a “drive by viewing”. Colleges need to know that you took the time to do a formal visit, and you need to see the full array of opportunities at each college. Most colleges have info sessions and tours several times a week and on Saturdays. You can register on the admissions page or by calling the admissions office.

2. You must visit colleges within a 6 hour drive before you apply.

If you live in Massachusetts, a college in California will understand if you don’t visit until after you are accepted. However, a college in New York or New Hampshire will most likely think that you aren’t that interested if you fail to visit. The reality is that many colleges are now calculating an interest factor, and campus visits play into that if you live within a day’s drive of the institution. So, don’t be surprised if you get rejected from a college that you thought was a sure thing, if you live within 6 hours and haven’t visited.

3. Visit campuses when they are in session.

It’s important to view schools when students are on campus. If you wait until summer, you won’t be able to determine if a campus is dead on the weekends, or if the students are too sporty or too artsy for your tastes. Some colleges will even let you sit in on a class. I recommend visiting the student café after your tour for lunch and to chat with students who may be sitting nearby; it’s a great way to get the “real skinny” on the school.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

Students are often afraid to ask questions in the information session, or they cringe when their parents raise their hand. Don’t be shy. Ask about required GPA for merit aid, how hard it is to get into classes, the percentage of students who return for sophomore year, campus safety, or how many students drop out of the pre-med program. On student-led tours, ask your guide what they feel is the best thing about the college and the worst thing. Getting administrators and students “off script” will usually yield the best insight to life on campus.

5. Don’t judge a college by one or two individuals.

Parents and students often make the mistake of discounting a great college because the person who lectured at the information session or led the tour turned them off. Other times, students rule out a school and never visit because they dislike someone they know who attends the college. It is CRITICAL that everyone involved has the maturity to look at the big picture and determine if a school is the right fit--NOT make a judgment about a school of 2,000 or 20,000 based on one or two individuals.

For colleges outside of your geography, consider a DVD tour. These differ from the short videos found on college Web sites. Most are 40-90 minutes in length and take deep dive into the college facilities and life on campus. Another great resource is The Insider’s Guide to Colleges by the Yale Daily News which delves into life on about 300 US campuses based on student surveys and interviews. It’s not your ordinary college guide.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, individual counseling for college-bound students.


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