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Getting Prepared for Your College Visit

Guest 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.

NOTE: In the winter and spring of 2022, because of the pandemic, tours on many campuses may be limited or unavailable, and in some cases proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will be required. Before planning a visit, be sure to contact the Admissions Office for up-to-date information and always register in advance for tours and information sessions.

Common Considerations

Generally, you and your student will need to answer several questions about the campus to determine whether it is a good fit.

  • How updated are the buildings and facilities? Are they in good repair and aesthetically pleasing?
  • How far apart are the buildings? Can they walk to classes or will they need a car or bike to get around?
  • What are the college’s safety and security protocols, particularly in this COVID-19 era?
  • Is there a wide enough variety of food on campus? How close are grocery and convenience stores?
  • Are the residence halls comfortable, with adequate study space?

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.

Uncommon Considerations

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.

Julie L. Bortoli, a school counselor in the southwest suburbs of Chicago for 16 years, works with students and parents as a member of My College Planning Team. She holds master’s degrees from Governor’s State University in Political and Social Justice Studies and from Lewis University in School Counseling and Guidance. In addition, she is a Licensed Professional Counselor and National Certified Counselor.
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