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Go out, and visit colleges! 

Article and photo by Liz Stucke, owner of LS Admissions Prep

StuckeMay2013Summer is crunch time for rising seniors.  It is the time to get college applications in order and finalize a list of schools to which to apply.  While the spring and fall semesters are the ideal times to visit colleges, students could still benefit from visiting colleges during the summer.

For parents of younger children, it is never too early to visit colleges when traveling.  Rather than stopping at a fast food restaurant during a road trip, take a little extra time to eat near a college campus.  This casual exposure to colleges at a young age builds a student’s comfort and familiarity with colleges.  On these visits, a family could simply walk around the campus and eat in the town.

Rising seniors and even some rising juniors will want to take a more active approach to visiting college campuses:

Research before you go: Before investing time and money traveling to campuses, make sure your child researches colleges to narrow the college visits to ones that have her academic majors and matches her academic profile, interests and goals.  With some more detailed information about the college, questions can be crafted to highlight differences on each campus.

Schedule: Your child should call ahead and schedule a tour, a class visit, and if possible an on-campus interview.  These tours fill up, so calls should be made several weeks and sometimes months in advance.  Some colleges even provide an opportunity for students to spend the night in a dorm room.

“For parents of younger children, it is never too early to visit colleges as when traveling. Rather than stopping at a fast food restaurant during a road trip, take a little extra time to eat near a college campus.”

Visit a class: One of the best ways to get a realistic view of a college is to sit in on a class.  Not only will your child see the professor in action, but she will also see the students, her future classmates in action.  Do they actively participate, or are they merely note-taking?  Are they engaged in the topic?  Would your child feel inspired by a discussion with this group of students?  After the class, your child should make sure to personally thank the professor and ask any questions.  When she returns home, she should then follow up with a thank-you letter.

Ask tough questions: During guided tours and information sessions, ask several different people at each school questions that will give your family a realistic view of the college:

  • What percentage of students graduate in four years?
  • What happens if a class is oversubscribed? Is preference given to students who require the course for their major degree?
  • Are students assigned faculty advisers, and what role do they play in a student’s education?
  • What are three things that could be improved at the college?
  • What are the most popular academic majors?
  • How difficult is it to double major or craft one’s own major?

Visit the town: The view books online and sent in the mail only show the most beautiful sites on campus.  One of the most productive parts of the college visit is to see what life is like around the campus and in the town.  Are shops or bicycle paths nearby? Is the campus isolated from the rest of the town, or is it right in the middle of it?  Do the town and the college clash? Will it be a town in which your child will feel comfortable?

Meet students beyond the tour guide: Your child can both meet students as he wanders around campus, in the town, and online.  Many schools will now partner a prospective student with a current student online.  Use this resource to get the inside perspective on classes and classmates.

Take pictures and write notes: After a few colleges it can all become a blur.  I like to take pictures of the name of the school first, followed by other important sites such as the library and fish-eyed views of the campus.  Then follow this up with some notes about class size or observations.  Did you notice students talking and engaging?  Were activities of interest going on during your visit?

Finally if you can’t visit a campus in person, several sites now have online virtual tours.  They don’t quite replace the feel you get from being on campus, but it can help begin the search:

Liz Stucke is president of LS Admissions Prep ( where she counsels high school students and their parents through the College Selection and Application process.  Email questions or to set up a free consultation or call/text 865-951-0639.

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