It is important before even talking about how to prepare for college visits to take some time to understand why these visits are so important.
When your teens go through the college search process, they should think of the college that they ultimately choose as their home away from home. And like their home, they want that to be a place that will be comfortable for them. Comfortable in the sense that their basic needs are taken care of, but comfortable also as a place where they will feel confident enough to explore and discover new knowledge about themselves and the community around them. The college that they choose should also be a place where the study environment, the facilities and the resources available will allow them to accomplish their academic goals, both short and long-term. But they also should look beyond the classroom to think about how they will engage with the college community in other ways, such as by doing community service, playing on a sports team, joining a special interest club or becoming involved in student government. Research has shown that those students that are active and involved in their college communities more easily find opportunities when applying to grad school or th workforce.
More than printed materials, websites, virtual tours and visits from admissions counselors, in-person college visits allow students to get a true feel for the campus environment and the students that attend. It is an opportunity to evaluate an institution first hand–the academics, the living arrangements, the physical environment and more. It is not uncommon for a student to think that, based on promotional literature or a discussion with a friend, that a college is the right place–yet after a visit, they decide that it is not the right fit.
When it comes to deciding on that right fit, there are multiple factors to consider. For instance, perhaps your teen thinks they want a big school. But what does that mean? Big in terms of the number of students that attend? Or big meaning the size of the school? Is 125 acres big? How about 800 acres? It is hard to get a feeling for the size of a campus without actually visiting it. A campus visit allows your teen to determine if they are best suited to a campus where they can walk or bike from one end to the other in 15 minutes, or perhaps they would prefer a campus where they might need to take a shuttle to get from the dorm to some of their classes. Do they want a campus in the middle of a city? Perhaps they enjoy the fast pace and all of the activities that happen in a city. But is New York too big for them? How about Washington DC or Boston? And while some universities, like Columbia University and American University have true campuses within a city, others like George Washington University and New York University are more integrated into the cities themselves. Even if they begin their visits not knowing what they’re looking for, university visits will help them narrow down their criteria.
Did you know that college visits can be very helpful when it comes to writing application essays? Many colleges in one way or another ask a supplemental question on their applications wanting to know why a student wants to attend their institution, or how they can contribute to the community. Once a student has become familiar with a college campus, it may be easier to answer those questions. There might be something they’ve seen, a class they’ve observed, or someone they have met on campus that will motivate them to write an inspiring essay.
Did you know that some (not all) colleges look favorably upon those students that have visited their campuses? In fact, some colleges ask on their applications if a student has paid them a visit. While visiting these colleges does not guarantee that you will be accepted, it does, in some instances, help to show demonstrated interest.
What other factors might influence where your teen chooses to attend college? How about the weather? If you currently live in a temperate climate and your teen is considering a college in a colder climate, you might want to try to visit during the wintertime so they can get an idea of what life will be like during those colder months.
Whether your teen is hoping to attend a college close to home or somewhere across the world, it is important to visit the campuses before making a final decision. College visits are an integral part of the college search process as aptly stated by Brian Rosenberg, former President of Macalester College in a still relevant New York Times article: “Few people would even consider buying a house or a car sight unseen. Selecting a college is a financial decision of comparable or greater weight, and a life decision of far more consequence.”