Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Admitted in November 2018. It’s being republished as part of NACAC’s Best of the Blog series.
We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files;
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself;
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes;
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.
Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics mirror the facts and feelings of visiting prospective colleges these days.
Why Visit Colleges?
The cost of four years of higher education can be approximately that of a new home, and who buys a house without checking out the bathrooms? Here’s what a visit can do for a student:
- Dispel vague impressions with facts about academic and co-curricular life.
- Transform a first-choice college to a fifth-choice, or the other way around.
- Establish a satisfying alternate destination should a first-choice college not offer admission.
- Uncover a community surrounding the college that fascinates, educates, and employs.
Keep an Open Mind
When asked why a particular college visit was unappealing, students often reply, “It rained,” or “The tour guide was uncool.” These responses are signs of a mind already made up before setting foot on the first grassy quadrangle. As the saying goes, “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.”
When to Visit Colleges
It is perfectly fine for high school freshmen, sophomores, and upward to visit colleges, although some admission offices limit visits to juniors and seniors. The only downside for younger students happens when parents try to make more of the visit than an easygoing overview, e.g., “This is what you’ll miss if you don’t get your grades up.” Admission counselors react warmly to students who arrange their visit themselves, and who step up to introduce themselves and their parents upon arrival rather than being passively or reluctantly pulled forward.
Make the Visit Your Own
It’s almost impossible to experience a college in less than three hours. With mind and calendar cleared, check with the admission office well in advance about viewing particular facilities or sitting in on a class. Always visit a first-year residence hall because that’s literally where you’ll live. (The laundry dryers in one college’s residence hall will text when the cycle is done—how did we ever manage without that?) Ask to speak for a few minutes with a campus specialist such as a financial aid counselor, professor or upper-level student in an academic department of interest, career planning expert, diversity and inclusion administrator, or coach.
The Campus Tour
Situate yourself near the tour guide so you can hear what’s going on; this can be accomplished by a simple flanking maneuver that places you at the edge of the group closest to the speaker. Here’s a tip that’s seldom used: If the tour is divided into more than one group, students and parents should split up as well. Doing so enables the student to encounter the campus as an independent young adult rather than a tagalong.
The Parent’s Role
Parents do well to be reserved during visits, allowing their student to emerge and engage according to personal preference. Trust that the student knows what’s what and allow participation to emerge or not.
Plan a free day in the itinerary to relax, check out cultural scenes, spelunk, or bungee jump.
As you arrive home from your grand college tour, Simon and Garfunkel are again warbling on ‘60s Sirius Radio. The lyrics seem just for you on the verge of a college adventure:
Your time has come to shine;
All your dreams are on their way;
See how they shine.
NACAC member Bryan Rutledge serves as director of college counseling at Woodward Academy (GA).