Top Tips for Effective College Visit Planning

by | Jul 20, 2021 | Our Blog | 0 comments

Effective Tips for College Visit Planning

National Planning Summit: College visit planning expert Janice Caine was interviewed by Betty Frohlking 

Janice Caine, the founder of Custom College Visits, joined more than 20 college planning experts to share valuable college planning advice during the first National College Planning Summit. The summit was a virtual online event that brought together some of the most respected names in the college search, admissions, athletics, and finance field. 

The National College Planning Summit consisted of a series of 1-hour long interviews with experts like Janice who shared insights and advice on how to prepare for, get accepted, pay for, and succeed during college. Janice provided valuable tips for students and parents for effective college visits.

Over 2,500 participants listened to or live-streamed interviews with leading experts such as Rob Franek, Senior VP-Publishing of The Princeton Review; Christine VanDeVelde, co-author of College Admissions: From Application to

Acceptance; Phillip Mikula, National Account Executive for ACT; Ron Them, co-founder of the National Institute of Certified College Planners; Angela Crawford, Manager of Marketing and Communications for the NAIA and Jonathan Chiu, National Content Director / High School Programs for The Princeton Review. During her interview, Janice focused on ‘Ten Tips for Effective College Visits.’

If you would like to skip around please click on the link below to be taken to that section of the interview. 

  1. How do students and parents start deciding where to visit?
  2. Why do I need to see the campus in person?
  3. How many schools per day can you visit?
  4. Is it possible to visit with the financial aid office or career placement center?
  5. What homework should the student do before the campus visit?
  6. Can a student arrange a visit with faculty and how should they prepare?
  7. What questions should students ask while on campus?
  8. What should students & parents bring on a campus?
  9. The top 10 tips for an effective college visit




How did families decide which colleges to visit and why do I need to see the campus in person?

Betty: And sometimes I hear students say ‘Oh, why do I need to go to see the campus in person? I’ve taken the virtual tour online!’ How do you respond to a student that says that?

Janice: Well, I think that the virtual tours are good for an introduction. I think it’s a great way for them to get an introduction to the college. I think that virtual tours are great if you can’t get to the college to visit the campus. Sometimes you can’t get to all of them.

Researchers have shown that students believe that college visits are still the most influential resource in introducing students to college. So on-campus visits are important. They are also the most influential factor for getting a feel for specific colleges and that is because that’s the way you get a feel for the actual culture of a community.

Once on campus, you can talk with students, you can see what the interaction is like between students and faculty members. There’s just really no substitute for being on campus and getting that.

There are any number of different things that kids come away with; sometimes they’ll get a gut feeling on a college right away and say ‘This is for me’ or ‘Oh, I really love it.’ There’s something about being on that college campus that allows them to get that feel of the environment and the community that they can’t get just by watching something on a video.


Betty: How many schools a day could you think that you could comfortably visit and still have a clear head?

Janice: If parents have the time, I often suggest that it’s one school a day. In many cases, if you can’t get from one to the other and still do what you need to do, there are some, for instance, if you were to visit U-Penn and Drexel University which are right near each other so you can do that in one day.

But I feel that to retain and get a feel for what’s on each college campus if at all possible, I suggest one per day so that you have enough time to do the different things on each campus that you want to do without having to rush. And to remember it. So, that’s what I usually suggest. If you can do two and you need to do two, that’s fine, but never more than two.


Betty: Is it also possible to visit with the financial aid office or the career placement center on these campus visits?

Janice: Yes. I would recommend again making an appointment in advance to do that. And I would also, especially with the financial – well, with both I guess, but especially with the financial office decide what it is that you want to achieve during that appointment.

Is it just to understand how the financial aid process works or is there a specific question that you have that you would like the financial aid to help you with, particular to your instance or your situation? So make sure that you, again, do your homework and find out what’s online in terms of the information so that when you do go in there that you have a better idea of what you hope to achieve with that. But yes, you can do that.


Betty: Let’s say now that the student and family have picked out eight (8) schools that they’re interested in visiting. What homework does the student need to do before goes?

Janice: Well, I always encourage the students to review the school’s website and any printed materials they might have. They should prepare questions that aren’t answered in the materials that they have. So, in other words, when they get to a school, they have a chance to ask questions that they can’t necessarily find the answers to.

They will have an information session so they can ask people from the admissions office to answer their questions. They possibly have students that can answer those questions – but they have that chance to ask the questions that they can’t find elsewhere.

They can also go on to the Facebook page, usually, there’s an admissions Facebook page that they can go to and see what types of information is on there. So there are various ways where they can get that information, and then they can go ahead and put together some questions that they might have.


Betty: Just off the top of your head, what might some of those questions be that the students wouldn’t find an easy answer, either on a website or in the printed material?

Betty: No, but I can definitely see that, if these are questions that students are thinking about, they’ve put a lot of thought into that particular college already, and so this is rounding up the whole picture.

Certainly, things having cars on campus is huge, and not something that is the first thing that when you’re choosing a college, certainly not the first thing you’re looking at is oh, can I have a car on campus? So, I can definitely see the value in having questions like these ready to ask people that know the answer.

Janice: Exactly. And it also helps again when they start to narrow down their list.  They may have 20 schools on their list, they can’t apply to 20 and maybe there are certain factors, based on some of the information that they garner from some of these universities that will help them narrow things, and it may not be cars.

So, these types of questions help them narrow their focus a little bit, because it gets difficult toward the end, trying to figure out okay, well I have this many on my list, I like them all – how do I decide which ones to apply to? So, you really have to hone in on some of the information.


Betty: If, for example, you would like to meet a faculty member that was in a specific academic department, we’ll say chemistry, how should the student arrange something like that at a campus visit? Is it even possible to do?

Janice: It is possible. It’s possible at many of the colleges and it works differently at different colleges. At some schools, they will help you in the admissions office, they will give – some of the will arrange that, so for instance, George Washington University, you can make those arrangements through the admissions office.

So, if you go to their admissions website and go to where they’re visits are, it will tell you call us if you want to have a faculty visit or a visit with an athletic coach and they will work with you to arrange those. Others, the admissions office will give you the contact information that you need to get to the right person, and then you go ahead and do that on your own.

At others, they’ll tell you, you basically need to make these arrangements – just go ahead and contact the department on your own. So, it varies from college to college, but many of them are open to making those faculty arrangements, and in many cases, the faculty members are more than happy to meet with the students.

Betty: And so, should the student in preparation for that, should they also have done their research about the particular program, whether it’s in academics or in the fine arts or athletics, to understand how that program works and then ask some additional questions to faculty and staff?

Janice: Yes, they should definitely do what they can. And meeting with a faculty member as trying to get, to work with them to understand more about what the department has to offer, it will also help them if they do more of these meetings again, to go back to what we were saying about honing in on some of that information, to understand the differences in the programs between some of these different colleges.

So how does the chemistry major at one college differ from the chemistry major at another, and which one is more toward what I’m looking for? Or does one offer more internship possibilities? Does one offer more hands-on research, or whatever it may be.

That’s a good way of looking at what they’re using that time with that faculty member when yes, the more information they can get in advance, the more helpful it would be. And, again, it goes back to thinking about some of those questions.

One of the big ones these days, because study abroad is becoming more and more important and more popular, do students majoring in let’s say chemistry have the opportunity to study abroad? It used to be that students in the sciences, it was much more difficult for them to study abroad.

There weren’t that many programs available. It’s becoming easier to do that. So, at this college, do students majoring in chemistry have that opportunity to study abroad? If I major in chemistry, is it possible to double major? Does the department help students find internships?

Is there that opportunity for working as a teacher’s assistant within the department or doing work study? What types of guest lecturers are there? What type of speaking engagements? Even a question about career or what fields to graduates go on to pursue with a major in chemistry? DO most people go on to graduate school or do they go into the workforce first? So, any of these kinds of questions are great to speak with faculty members about.


Betty: Now, our students have done their preliminary work and now it’s time to go on the campus visit. What do they need to bring with them when they start to visit a campus?

Janice: Well, the first thing I tell the parents and students is to wear comfortable shoes. They will be doing a lot of walking, so it is important that they always have comfortable shoes with them.

And the other thing that I recommend also is to always take an umbrella, because most of these tours will be conducted rain or shine, so it’s always great to have that umbrella with them. Unlike California, where we’d love to have that rain right now, most of the other places will have rain any time of year and that will come in handy.

I also recommend that they, whatever way works best for them, to take some notes, whether it’s just a small notepad, whether it’s taking notes on an iPad, whatever is the easiest way for them to take notes – they should have that just so they could jot things down. Because, especially after doing a few visits, they’re not necessarily going to remember everything that they have seen or what was more important to them that they saw during that college visit.

I actually have, what I call a College Visit Student Journal (Request one) that I give to students that I tell them to fill out. Most of the time they do that at the end of their visit and they jot things down in a notebook before that, but that helps them keep a record of everything that they’ve seen while they’re there.

It’s very important, because they will not remember – especially if they’re in 10th grade, and then they won’t be coming back to do any visits until maybe later in the year, or what have you. Or they want to refer back to it. That way they have a record of what they’ve seen or what was most important to them.

Some students like to take pictures – again, it could be done on their phone. If they see something that they feel is really important, that they want to remember, taking a picture of that and then making a note with that will be really important for them.


Betty: Janice, can you take us quickly through a summary of kind of the top 10 tips for effective college visits?

Janice: Some of those might be, for instance,

  • What percentage of students live off-campus?
  • This is an interesting subject because not everybody, when they start looking at colleges thinks of this.
  • And something I bring up often to students is what kind of an environment, and again, what kind of community are you looking for? Are you one of those that will want to live off-campus, or would you prefer to have a community where 90% or 95% of the students live on campus, cause it is very different? It is a different type of feel. So, what percentage of the students live off-campus? Or vice-versa, what percentage live on campus? Do only upper class-men live off-campus?
  • This is an important one, I know, this is important especially for parents. I think that you guarantee housing for all 4 years – if not, do you help students find this off-campus housing? Because it’s something you want to know before you enroll or you’re accepted or is it even a place based on what they tell you that you want to apply? So, you go on to make sure that it’s not difficult to find housing, whatever type of housing you’re looking for.
  • Here’s another one: do students have to apply to a specific school or college within the university when they’re applying as a freshman?
  • In some cases, especially with the bigger universities, you may have to make that decision, so it means that you may have to decide what your major is? Is that something that you need to do when you’re applying? Or do you have a chance to do that once you are in there and you’ve taken some courses?
  • The other question is, and I find this is a very important one – if you have to decide on the major when you apply, how hard is it to change your major? Because many students think they know what they want, and then they get there and they take some courses and they’re interested in other things, and they want a change. So how difficult is it to change majors once you’re in the school and you’re enrolled, and you’ve taken some classes? Do you need a certain GPA? Do you have to make up certain classes?
  • So, it’s a really important question to ask.
  • A lot of students are interested in undergraduate research. What opportunities are there for undergraduate research?
  • Others want to bring their car to campus – can freshmen have cars? And if they have cars, how expensive is it to have your car there, and how easy is it to park? Things like that.
  • What types of student support services are offered? What is there for students in terms of support once they get there, both academically and in terms of other student affairs?
  • What is a typical weekday like for students? What is it like to be there, as a student?
  • What are some of the most popular courses offered?
  • What activities and services are there to help first-year students get settled? That might be orientation, in some schools actually have other orientation programs that students can do their optional, whether it’s a trip, whether it’s some type of program. So what does the school offer so that they can help them get acclimated to life at that college?
  • These are just some of them, and students, I’m sure, can come up with others on their own, and parents too as well.

About the National College Planning Summit

The National College Planning Summit is co-sponsored by David Riklan, the Founder of SelfGrowth.com and Bob and Betty Frohlking, the Founders of Clear Light College Success. 

SelfGrowth.com is the largest Self Improvement and Personal Growth portal on the Internet, with over 2 million monthly visitors. Clear Light College Success is a successful College Planning Company helping students and their families get into and pay for college.

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