College Visits – 10 Tips

Leaves are changing color.  A nip is in the night air.  Students are eagerly awaiting some time off. Holidays already? Nope. MEA is in the rear view mirror.  For many MEA (Fall break in MN) means hitting the road, – it’s College Visit season.

To my way of thinking visiting a college campus is a must. You will never get a true sense of campus life from web sites, brochures, virtual tours, your friends, or crazy uncle Louie.

Each college has a unique personality. Only by visiting campus will you get a true sense of what a college – and life at that college – is really like and whether any particular college is the right fit for you.

Enjoy fall break and if you happen to be visiting a campus or two over MEA (Oct. 20-23), consider these tips to help you get the most out of your visits.

Tip #1 – Don’t’ be afraid to ask questions, after all this is a big decision, but please, please, please let your son or daughter take center stage. During the formal presentation or tour, let them ask the questions and form their own impressions. Resist the temptation to be “that” parent – the one asking all the questions as your son or daughter slowly slinks into the shadows – you will have plenty of opportunity to corner an admission rep once the formal visit is over.

Tip #2Don’t drag the entire family along. Ten year old’s Tommy and Timmy incessantly asking “can we go yet”during the tour or enthusiastically enjoying video games during the information session only serves to detract from the experience of your college bound daughter or son.

Tip #3Don’t schedule more than 1 visit per day – a visit is more time consuming than you realize. How long will you be on campus? Plan to spend at least a half a day per visit.

Tip #4 – Have Fun. Don’t make college visits an ordeal. Treat it as a mini vacation. Relax and enjoy yourself. Plan time to wander around town after the formal tour and presentation. Take in the local sites. Grab a bite to eat at a local favorite – you just might stumble upon a local “secret”, like Cookie Dough Egg Rolls.  “MMMM…Egg Rolls”.  Explore the surrounding community – you just might be living there for four years.  

Tip #5 – Wear comfortable shoes. Visits require a lot of walking. Heels, sandals, flip-flops, soccer spikes. Really?  I’ve seen plenty of miserable people after an hour+ tour.

Tip #6 – Wear appropriate clothing. While it is unnecessary to dress up, your wardrobe will be noticed. Dress casual – don’t make admissions officers uncomfortable talking to you by wearing inappropriate clothing.  Don’t be the ”    ” who wears the “Bucky Badger” sweatshirt when touring the University of Minnesota. Check the weather, dress for the climate and season.

Tip #7 – The quality of tour guide(s) varies. Almost all will be current undergraduate students. If your gut instinct is “I love this place”, don’t let first impressions of one admissions officer, tour guide, professor, or student influence your overall feelings about a college.

Tip #8– Talk with Current Students! They are the best source of unvarnished information. If you truly want to understand what it is like to be a student on campus ASK THEM. If you visit during an off period and not many students are around, contact the admissions office for the names of current students (and contact information) who are willing to speak to prospective students.

Tip #9 – Your interested in biology, but the tour didn’t feature the biology lab…  Wander off the beaten path. Seek out areas of campus that interest you. After the admissions office spiel and tour take a behind-the-scenes peek for yourself. Campuses are welcoming and open. Don’t just talk to students. Talk to professors, staff, and the barista at the on campus coffeehouse. Each will give you a different perspective of what it is like to be a student at this school.

Tip #10 – Although not guaranteed, showing demonstrated interest can be a tip factor in your being admitted or not. The first way to show interest – Show up for an official campus tour and information session. It is one of many activities that earns a prospective student demonstrated interest points. Don’t try to game the system (by signing up but not showing). There’s a reason those sneaky admissions reps make you sign in.

Demonstrated Interest Hint: It is a good idea to introduce yourself to the admissions representative assigned to your school or geographic region. Ask if it is feasible to meet with him/her. If they are busy follow up with an e-mail.

Bonus Tip  – The ideal time to visit a campus is when classes are in session. Life happens and often you must visit during an “off time”. If visiting during an “off-time”, keep in mind that what you see may not be reflective of the normal campus environment. If you like a college when visiting during an off time, make sure you schedule another visit when school is in session.