Why You Shouldn’t Skip The College Visit

A panel of college admissions representatives recently explained why it is important to see a prospective student’s interest in their school, and the specific ways they expect students to “demonstrate” that interest. At the end of the session, a high school counselor asked: “Why should students jump through yet another hoop to prove they want to attend your college?”

A valid question indeed. But with the ever-increasing volumes of applications flooding admissions offices each year, colleges seek additional criteria with which to vet students. Colleges want to see and hear why a prospective student wants to attend. The more personal details a student includes in an essay or email, the more genuine that student’s interest becomes. It’s almost as if the prospective student needs to gather evidence to build a solid case to attend. The application alone is not enough anymore. Hence, campus visits have taken on a whole new meaning.

According to college reps, the absence of a campus visit may raise eyebrows when reviewing applications, especially if the student lives within driving distance. 

Some colleges ask about “demonstrated interest” right on the application itself: “did you visit our campus? have an interview? visit us at a college fair?” Checking off these questions shows the admissions office how much a student has engaged with a given school.

It’s crucial for students to “feel” the campus.

Yet, campus visits also benefit the prospective student. No website, guidebook, or friend’s advice offers a better feel for a school than actually walking around that campus and watching, if not speaking with, the college students there. The better a student understands a college environment both academically and socially, the more able he or she is to narrow down choices. 

For all of the above-mentioned reasons, I strongly recommend that students visit as many colleges as possible. I advise current sophomores to visit one, or two, colleges this spring. I advise current juniors to visit one, or two, colleges before spring break, and then to see another three to four colleges during spring break. How will you squeeze it all in?

How do you select colleges to visit? Because high school counselors typically do not begin the college list process with juniors until January, sophomore students and parents are left on their own to select schools. College guidebooks are a good start, especially those categorized by state. Every major city has plenty of colleges to explore within a 2-hour drive. Criteria to consider include location, size, weather, and academic concentrations.

As a parent, do you really need to go along on the visits? Yes. Many colleges have activities and discussions specifically for parents. Moreover, parents are most likely to be the note takers and record keepers; it is critical to write down as much as possible.

Use weekends for visits.

Go through the college’s website to schedule your trip.  On the “Admissions” link of every college, you will find a “visit” page.  Some colleges have a calendar of available dates for information sessions and campus tours right on the link.  Others may ask you to email or phone the admissions office to schedule.  Almost all colleges offer sessions/tours on Saturdays, so you can arrange those for schools that are within a few hours’ driving distance. Schedule trips to farther destinations during the spring break. Keep in mind, it is important to see a campus in session — so it is imperative to visit colleges before mid-May. 

Visit colleges on your preliminary list. This may seem obvious, but many families do not yet have a college list in place and make a trip to a college nearby simply to walk around; this is a waste of time.  If your son/daughter has not yet met with the high school’s college counselor, make an appointment to speak with a guidance counselor to get some idea of which colleges make sense based on your student’s grades and PSAT scores.  For students who do have a preliminary list, try to visit one “reach” school, and one “target” school to start. 

Keep the number of trips reasonable. Prospective students need time to soak up the atmosphere on a given campus, to really look at the college students and to sense if this campus “feels right.”  If your son/daughter feels enthusiastic being on this campus, and can envision hanging out with these college students, then he/she is closer to making a solid match. Ideally, students should spend several hours at any one college so planning out the trips in a manageable way is important.  If a college is in a city, or even a small town, spend time exploring these also.  For these reasons, I recommend touring no more than three colleges in a week and only one college in one day.

Pay close attention. Pay attention to everything you see and hear, and take notes. (Key Pointer: parents, this will inevitably become your job so make sure to write down your son/daughter’s thoughts and reactions). During the information session, listen for what appeals to your son or daughter, and what does not. Most importantly, listen for features you have not heard from admissions representatives at other colleges, as these are the aspects that make this school different.