Family Campus Visit Guide
by Howard Freedman
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A well-planned campus visit allows a student and their families to discover which colleges provide the best educational and social fit and financial aid for awards to satisfy your individual needs.
Planning Is a Must
It was once said that if you do not have a destination, you will never get there. The same goes for effectively planning campus visits. Start by listing your areas of interest, type of college (public or private), the size (large or small) and distance from home to target the colleges to visit. Many Web sites––such as collegeboard.com, a2zcolleges.com and fastweb.com––and numerous college publications provide a wealth of valuable information. Statistics such as acceptance rates, test scores, student-teacher ratios, class sizes, majors, demographics, costs of attendance, financial aid awarded, and many other statistics posted to a spreadsheet will provide an easy way to compare each college and your chances for acceptance before planning your visits.
It is also beneficial to be an effective networker with those who have gone through this process. Parents and students should contact their area high school’s guidance department to better understand how other graduates fared with a particular college, the names of college contacts and the dates of high school college fairs and financial aid nights. This will save time and provide the same resources available to those attending public high schools. There are also excellent college-coaching professionals to help with college and scholarship searches and test preparation. Along the way, you may also want to consider financial aid consulting support to identify the best college values and resolve your financial needs before and after acceptance.
Your next step is to narrow your list of planned visits. At this point, develop a scoreboard to post how you and your parents rated each visit. A simple scoreboard could list the colleges on the left column and the rating criteria on the top. Develop your own rating system, such as one to 10. Establish what you want to evaluate and the order of importance. Consider such things as size, reputation, facilities, support services, gender ratios, specialized programs, location, academic programs, friendliness, types of students, graduation, placement, and careers after college, and scholarships.
Both parents and student should also write their questions to ask and space for the answers. The questions can be both general for all colleges as well as specific for colleges with unique programs and opportunities. Then during and immediately after each visit, rate the colleges while they are fresh in your minds. If not, everything will be a blur and impede your decision making.
When Should You Visit
I recommend that students visit college anytime during their high school years. This can be when an older sibling makes their campus visits, while on vacation or at a sporting event. This allows you to get a better feel for what is involved and whether you wish to pursue that college in the future. If possible, it is best to schedule initial visits and follow-up visits in your junior year during the summer or when the colleges are in session. This will offer opportunities to see and feel the dynamics of the college, types of students and give you a gut feel as to whether you fit in.
I can relate to these feelings. I was accepted into a prestigious college, but after the campus visit, I did not feel that I had anything in common with the wealthy students that attended. Although my parents were willing to help me financially, I decided to attend Northeastern University, where I could better afford to pay my own way while taking advantage of their hands-on co-operative education program. The result was a great education and real-world experience, and I applied my unique education as a working adult.
Making the most of Your Visit
Plan your visit by scheduling campus tours, which will introduce you to the campus and provide an opportunity to ask questions of the tour guide as you go. You should also schedule appointments with the admissions office, financial aid, departments or majors, and athletics coaches (if applicable) and counseling services. It also helps if you have a resume or portfolio of accomplishments to share and distinguish yourself from other candidates. Since both parents and students have different interests and needs, you should be given ample time to roam the campus on your own. Both the parents and student should ask for the names, addresses (e-mail and actual), and phone numbers to write thank you notes to future contacts and gain their support if needed. Both parents and students should also have a follow-up list to track what you need to provide or receive from each college and any additional requirements to fulfill before you apply.
· Parents’ mission should be focused on scheduled appointments especially admissions and financial aid along with the alumni relations and placement offices to find out about how the alumni put their educations to work. They should also find out about housing (freshman and upper class), campus safety, merit-based scholarship opportunities and how to qualify for them.
· Student’s Mission should be to mingle with other students, eat at the student union, visit the library, bookstore, attend classes (large and small), find out about the dorms and ask current students questions from your list. If the college is a serious contender, it might be the perfect time to network with students and arrange a follow-up trip in which you can stay in the dorms and attend other classes.
· Both students and parents should drive around campus and surrounding communities to discover the area, public safety, transportation options and gain an overall feel for the area.
During and immediately after each visit is when to enter your scores while things are fresh in your mind. It will also prevent you from confusing one college with the other.
Wrapping It Up
After you tally your scores from all of your visits, rank each college and sort your spreadsheet in different sequences. Also, identify the colleges that you’d like to revisit if you are accepted. Remain focused and follow-up so that there will be no surprises or roadblocks after your acceptance.
Be sure to minimize the mountains of paper by keeping a notebook or online file to manage your information in one place. Update your calendar with critical dates for admission, financial aid, and SAT or ACT information and scores.