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Help Your Student Find the Right College Academic ProgramGuest Contributor
The campus visit can provide your family with the most comprehensive information to support the college decision. You can help your student make the best choice by helping them consider all of the usual criteria, but also some less common ones.
Students should begin visiting colleges as soon as they have fully embraced the decision to pursue post-secondary education. For the very serious student, this can be anytime after completing their freshman year of high school.
More typically, sophomores and juniors should make their way to several types of schools to gain perspective. Visiting large public universities, small private schools and community colleges can help your student develop a good sense of their ideal fit. Each campus has a different feel and no two campuses are alike.
The purpose of the visit is to answer one question: Will your student fit in and thrive in this environment? The better your student is in touch with their preferences, the more informed their decision will be.
Generally, you and your student will need to answer several questions about the campus to determine whether it is a good fit.
There are other considerations, such as academic programs, class size, availability of scholarships and internships, job placement rates, etc., but you needn’t visit in person to find answers to these questions. Website research and phone calls will do.
Your family’s campus visit is when you can pick up on some less concrete considerations, which are just as important.
For example, visit the student lounge, cafeteria and student union. Pay particular attention to the general facial expressions of the students.
Are they smiling? Do they seem stressed or uncomfortable? Are they engaged in interesting conversations? Are they studying in pairs? Do they appear to be well rested? Are they spending time outdoors?
The more questions like these you can answer, the more telling it is about how your own student will thrive in that environment.
Next, you want to consider the location of the campus from as many angles as possible. Think about your student’s favorite weather, especially if an out-of-state school is on the table.
If they prefer a warm climate but enjoys green grass and leafy trees, a school in Arizona may not be best. Similarly, if they're accustomed to winter sports but applying to schools in the South, will they be content without snow?
Additionally, what lies beyond the campus? Is the surrounding area also appealing to your student? Does it seem safe? Is public transportation available?
If your student is coming from an urban or suburban area with many shopping and dining options, college in a small town may be difficult to adjust to.
If your student is making a move across state lines, it is important to consider regional cultural differences. Is your student open-minded about those with different backgrounds and belief systems or will this make them uncomfortable? (Of course, college is when you should be encountering people with different life experiences and viewpoints, but this is something to talk about. Some students embrace the chance to live somewhere that feels very new while others are more sensitive to culture shock. )
Finally, your student should consider their level of interest in Greek life and how much of the school’s social activity revolves around fraternities and sororities. At some colleges, sororities and fraternities start recruiting right after move-in day. It's better to be prepared for this decision in advance.
A second or third visit to the college, ideally while classes are in session, will truly help your student make the best decision when the time comes. Planning ahead with a list of specific questions can help make the visit even more successful.
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