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Avoid These 12 Assumptions When Choosing a CollegeV. Peter Pitts, M.A.
By David Duxbury
Every year, thousands of parents scour the internet with their college-bound children in search of their “dream” school. Students find hundreds of college websites that boast their rankings in athletics, student life and academic programs.
All of the websites use superlatives like “Most Affordable” or “Best Student Life” while posting trendy pictures of students laughing in hammocks drinking iced coffee. Every campus seems absolutely incredible!
But...how can family members help students decide on a school when every college website says they are the best? The answer may (or may not) surprise you.
A campus visit!
Visiting a college or university campus during the academic year can help you determine if what the website advertises is actually true.
Campus visits are popular during the fall months, but most admission offices will accommodate guests any time of the year. Whether your student is a well-prepared sophomore or a high school senior who needs to finalize their decision, campus visits are a great resource.
You may be wondering, “Is it possible to schedule a campus tour in light of COVID-19?”
The answer is yes!
Most colleges and universities in the U.S. are currently accommodating in-person visitors. However, each state, city and institution has different pandemic protocols. Before making travel plans, be sure to understand the guidelines you'll need to abide by during an in-person visit.
If visiting in person is not the best option for your family, most admissions offices are facilitating virtual tours and info sessions.
It's time to plan your campus visit! Here are seven tips for getting the most out of the experience.
Having questions prepared may feel strange, but it will give you and your student the ability to compare and contrast every visit should you tour multiple college campuses.
Questions about financial aid, job placement rates, academic programs, and student experiences are all fair game for the admissions representative that meets with you. You can also consider asking in-depth questions about campus safety, retention rates, and graduation rates to gain a better understanding of the health of the institution.
One of the most common questions admissions representatives get is the quality of the residence halls. You may not be able to tour every residence hall depending on the size of the campus, but this will help determine if living on campus is doable for your student.
This is a good time to ask about the campus community, how your student’s roommates would be chosen, and the support services that are available in the residence halls. It's also important to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the cost to live on campus per year.
Who doesn’t like free food? Many campuses will offer a complimentary lunch as part of a visit.
Eating in the college dining center can show you a lot about a campus. Does the dining center provide quality food with multiple options? Are student dietary needs (allergies and other intolerances and restrictions) reflected in the offerings, or will you need to make special arrangements for your student?
These are important things to consider since your student could be eating in the dining center for four years. Some dining halls are pay-as-you-go, but others have all-you-care-to-eat buffets, which can make the tour a good time to remind your student that great things can be enjoyed in moderation — the “freshman 15” is a real phenomenon.
Most admissions offices have current students facilitate tours for guests. This is an incredible opportunity for both parents and prospective students.
A current student will give you the most accurate, genuine perspective of what happens on campus. This can give you an idea of how current students spend their time, where they find the best entertainment in town, and how they get their studies taken care of. A current student could also give insight on different clubs and organizations that would best fit your student’s interests!
Rather than sifting through a website about the best on-campus events, why not attend one? Depending on the school, you may be able to attend an on-campus event as part of your visit experience.
Athletic events, music performances, theater and comedy improv are just a handful of on-campus events that you may be able to attend while visiting. This will give you and your student a first-hand experience of campus life. Many schools schedule concerts, games, lectures and more to overlap with preview events for prospective students. This can add a lot of value for you and your student!
After facilitating hundreds of personal visits and group events, I have watched parents do all of the talking during their time on campus. While it's important for parents to be engaged, remember that your student will be the one attending college! Allow them the time and space to ask their own questions and to use their own voice during the visit. The more they can speak, the better idea they will have about the campus and how they fit into it.
If there are multiple tour groups heading out at the same time, you can request to go with a separate group than your student and compare notes when you meet back at the admissions office. Or consider hanging to the back of the group and saving your own questions for the end of the tour.
Looking for colleges is very much a “shopping” experience. Admissions professionals are often seen as eager salespeople who want you to make your decision before leaving campus.
If this is the case, make sure the admissions representative you are interacting with understands where you are in the process. If you are just casually visiting schools, be firm when sharing this information. Just because you're visiting a campus doesn't mean you need to move forward in their admissions process.
Following these seven steps will help your student (with your guidance) make an informed decision about where to attend college. Above all else, enjoy your time previewing campuses with your student!
Everything you need to get through college application season with your high school senior!