10 Mistakes Students and Parents Make While Visiting College Campuses (and How to Avoid Them!)

10 Mistakes Students and Parents Make While Visiting College Campuses (and How to Avoid Them!)

Visiting SMUYou and your college-bound teen just spent a day (maybe more) traveling to the first stop on your week-long college road trip. You’ve settled into your hotel and are planning an early start so you can have a full day on campus. Your teen has dreamed of visiting this college for a long time and you are looking forward to them getting a first-hand feel for this and the other college communities you will be visiting. You will find that in-person visits are the best way to become familiar with a college campus. As you plan, consider the following ten mistakes many students and parents have made, so both you and your teen avoid making the same ones and get the most out of each campus visit.

Mistake #1 – Not registering with the admissions office either before or during your time on campus


If you don’t check in at the admissions offices, colleges have no way of knowing that you were on campus. Visiting a college and letting them know you were there can strengthen your chances of admission, because it shows you did your due diligence–commonly referred to as your demonstrated interest. The more you can connect with a college by attending an information session, taking a walking tour, emailing or interacting with admission officers on social media or attending events in your local area,  it will seem to the college and the admissions officers that you’ve done your research. They can be fairly confident that you will accept and enroll if offered admission to that school. Even if you are doing a self-guided tour, make sure the admissions offices know you’re on campus.

Mistake #2 – Not researching or making pre-arrival plans prior to visiting


Whether it is knowing where to park or setting up a appointment to meet with a student, professor, admission counselor or coach on campus, it’s important for you and your student to do your research before you travel.

For instance: Parking can be difficult at many colleges and universities and parking tickets can be costly. Knowing where to park (and to not park!) will save you both time and trouble.

Although your student might be able strike up a conversation with a student or two while on campus, and we do recommend that, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to spend extensive time with a student or professor unless you have planned the meet-up in advance. There are opportunities for your student, they just need to reach out and get commitments and contact information before arriving on campus.

Mistake #3 – Not having complete contact and meet-up information for your time on campus


Having each day planned out with times, meeting places, maps and all contact information will make your trip run so much smoother. Even with detailed, daily itineraries at their fingertips, we have had a couple of clients tell us they have forgotten to go to appointments. Imagine how much more difficulty it would be to navigate an activity-filled day without this information readily accessible.

Here’s an example: If you’re stuck in traffic, a meeting has run long or you’re lost on campus, having contact information at your fingertips will make it easier for you to let someone know you’re still on your way.

Hotel can’t find your reservation or you arrive late at night? Having your booking information on your daily itinerary will make it easy for you to retrieve your reservation.

Mistake #4 – Don’t be “that parent”


You expect your teen to be respectful and cordial when on campus, so don’t be that parent that other students and parents will talk about after the tour. Remember, this is your teen’s time to explore. It is your student who needs to ask most of the questions, to get the feel of the campus and the college community. But chances are, if they’re like most teenagers, they won’t feel at ease asking questions if you’re right beside them or overpowering them. It’s ok to ask questions but don’t embarrass them or the tour guide. Don’t lead, follow. Be helpful but not overpowering.

Mistake #5 – Not taking time to explore the campus on your own


When planning your student’s on-campus visits, be sure to allow time to look around at all aspects of the college. Let your teen wander around on their own. Visit areas you might not have seen on the tour but are important to your student. Is s/he interested in the performing arts? Find out how to visit the facilities on campus. How about the fine arts? Would it be possible for someone to show them around the studio? Taking the time to explore is well worth the time and effort. It will help your teen determine whether or not the college is a good fit for their personality and for his/her short and long term goals. 

Mistake #6 –  Don’t miss the opportunity for your teen to spend an overnight at the college


Some colleges can arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student in their dorm room. If this is something your teen would like to do, check with the admissions offices as far in advance as possible to find out if they offer the opportunity and if so, when these arrangements are available, their particular policies, and when to to register–the spots do fill up quickly! This is one of the most valuable experiences that your student can have during the college search process; many students miss this opportunity either because they don’t know about it or because they plan too late.

If your teen does arrange an overnight, make sure you both have secondary contact information in case a problem arises; and have a talk with your son or daughter about their responsibilities when on campus. We’ve heard some stories of visiting students heading off in their own direction and not communicating with their host as to where they are. You and your teen should discuss in advance what they hope to get out of their overnight experience and understand that they are guests of the college.

Mistake 7 – Not asking relevant questions 


Whether visiting as part of a group or with parents, students should be prepared with questions. Your teen should do some research before they arrive on campus so the questions they ask are those that through their research they have not found answers to–this will allow them to benefit the most from the time they have with tour guides and admissions staff. Some teens hesitate to ask questions because they are shy or afraid they may sound foolish. Others hesitate because they do not want to annoy the others in the group by holding up the tour. Neither fear is warranted. In fact there’s no better time to ask questions than during a campus tour. If your teen has questions in mind, they should ask them.  It will help them make informed decisions.

When it comes to asking questions, don’t stop at the student conducting the tour. Ask admissions staff, teaching and laboratory staff and even current students you meet throughout the day.

Mistake #8 – Getting impressed by the bells and whistles


Campus visits are a great opportunity for colleges to sell their services to eager students and their parents. While most colleges and universities do deliver on their promises, they tend to highlight their best side while downplaying some of their shortcomings. The landscaping along the driveway will probably be immaculate and you are likely to hear about the number of volumes in the library, the new sporting or theater facility or hi-tech classrooms. Don’t be immediately swayed. Look around and ask questions.

During your campus visit, it is important to stay focused on what matters most to your teen. But you can also pay attention to the things that will make a difference to you as a parent. For instance, if you know your son or daughter is interested in studying STEM, check out  the labs and the research facilities–don’t get caught up in the hype about the rock wall.

Mistake #9 – Not making the effort to gather ‘insider’ information


To find out how things really work, spend some time getting insider information from those who have nothing to gain—current students. Sitting down and having coffee or lunch with a current student will provide valuable insight into the things that really matter to your student. Before the day of your campus visit, make a list of questions to ask students.

Questions your student might ask are:

“What do you like most about the college?”

“Why did you choose this college?”

“What’s it like to live in this college dorm?”

“What does your typical weekend look like?”

“Might you tell me what don’t you like about the college?”

“Do you find the professors, administrators and staff helpful/supportive?”

“Can I text you if I have additional questions?” (ask for their phone number)

Mistake #10 – Ignoring the surrounding area


Ignoring the surrounding area is a mistake that could impact your teen’s whole college experience. Each community surrounding a college is completely unique. Let’s say you live in a rural area and your teen is visiting a college in a a big city with very little campus. Is this the environment that your teen is looking for? Will it be exciting or intimidating and overwhelming? If you have time, hop on a bus or subway that may be the transportation that your teen will use often if s/he should decide to attend this school. Find out where the dorms will be be–will it be too noisy?

If your teen comes from a bigger city with a lot going on, how will it feel to be in a more suburban or rural campus? Is there enough to do on campus that it won’t matter? Is there anything to do within a 10-15 minute walk? If not, how easy is it to get to the grocery store or Target? If s/he is not going to have a car, does the school provide transportation or is there a local bus?

Surroundings do matter. Your teen will be spending four to five years in college and it is important to not be in the wrong setting. Spend some time discovering the restaurants, cultural centers, museums and other facilities that the neighborhood offers and ask your teen if this is a place where they would be happy to call home.

A campus visit can give you and your teen great information. Information that will help them make the right college choice.

We hope this article is helpful as you embark on what should be a fun and memorable journey with your teen. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions, require resources, or need advice.

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