Optimizing Campus Visits

My wife and I didn’t visit all that many colleges with our two children when they were in the midst of their college process. I managed to help them narrow their lists by a series of prequalification steps that eliminated the marginal candidates. These days (perhaps “daze” would be a better way of putting it), however, many high schoolers are applying to 10 or more colleges. I had a client once who wanted to apply to 24 (!) colleges before I set him straight. 🙂

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In this difficult economy, campus visits can be an expensive proposition, especially for families where one (or both) of the parents have suffered job-related setbacks. Before you venture out into the expensive and time-consuming world of college visits, check out these two helpful resources that can help you get the biggest bang for your buck and the best return on your investment of time.

The first is an interesting article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Steve Rosen:

Kids and Money: Get the most out of grueling college visits

Piles of tour books, brochures and maps are strewn across the kitchen table. It’s two weeks before the trip, and you’re feeling anxious about last-minute scheduling hitches.

Nope, it’s not a spring-break vacation to Disney World or to a beach. This is much bigger: a college road trip with your high school junior — a grinding six campus stops in four days.

Spring is always a peak time for juniors to visit campuses. They’re a year away from making the big decision and in-person tours can help trim the application list next fall.

I liken the process to visiting a car dealership and kicking the tires, except the salesman exclaiming all the “awesomes” and the “spectaculars” is often the dean of admissions.

If you’re dropping hundreds of dollars for college visits — not to mention big bucks down the road for tuition — you’ll want to make every moment on campus count.

Sure, your son or daughter may get the recruiting pitches and plenty of face time with professors, admissions representatives and current students, but you still control the purse strings.

So, as you pore over the college rating guides and study the visitor schedules, consider the following strategies:

•Take advantage of free information. Before leaving town, visit the school’s Web site and take a virtual tour of the campus, or check out school tour sites such as eCampusTours.com and CampusTours.com. If possible, talk to students (or their parents) from your teen’s high school who currently attend the colleges you’re visiting.

•Don’t overschedule. Two campus walking tours in one day is plenty. As it is, you’ll be on information overload.

•When you arrive at the admissions office, you’ll be asked to sign a registry. Don’t sign for your teen. That tip comes from a college admissions officer who told me he often can tell when the signature is from a parent. It is one small way, he explained, of determining whether your teen is engaged and interested in the school.

•Check out the reading material. Pick up a copy of the student paper and any alternative papers; scan the bulletin boards around campus; make note of the posters promoting guest speakers, concerts and other activities; even eye the chalk art on the sidewalks. All can provide clues about the academic and social scene, as well as the latest on hot campus issues and crime.

•While your teen meets with the admissions representatives, stroll over to the home turf of the financial aid department. Ask about the size of their financial aid budget, and get a sense of the amount of need-based money (based on income qualifications) available versus merit money (based on academic achievement). What’s the academic profile of the students who receive merit money?

If you think your student will only qualify for merit scholarships but the school doesn’t offer much, it might not be a good match.•Tour the neighborhood surrounding the campus. Does it appear safe? Is there a lot of traffic? How close to campus are the grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and banks?

Now that you have a better game plan, keep in mind two factors that can make or break the campus visit: the friendliness of the student tour guide and the weather during your visit. Without a doubt.

The second resource is our venerable College Confidential discussion forum, where you’ll find quite a few interesting threads concerning college visits. Here are a few comments from one of them:

How to get the most out of a campus visit

I’m helping my son, a junior, to schedule a few campus visits during his spring break. Looking to go to Clemson, South Carolina, Auburn, and Alabama this time around.
In the past we have done the campus tour and them visit to Engineering Department for a chat and a tour with a professor or grad student, but I wondering if we should try to add a visit to the Admissions Department and Financial Aid Office.

The more we look into the colleges websites it is hard to understand their admission policies and even harder to know what scholarships/aids do they offer ( that he could qualify for) and how they administer them.

How this schedule looks:
Morning:
-Campus Tour
-Admissions Office
-Fin Aid Office
Afternoon:
-Department visit (including tour and some Q&A)

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We’ve toured the same schools…

In addition to making an appt with the dept major, I would call ahead and make an appt with the honors college, too.

Morning….

Campus Tour

I wouldn’t visit Admin or FA office – most info is on website. Also, usually the packets that they hand out for tours include a lot of this info.

Lunch at an on campus venue (if time, visit a couple of campus dining venues.)

Honors College visit – call ahead

Dept Visit – call ahead

Housing visit (some tours do not include housing tours, so call housing to find out how to tour. If interested in honors housing, then ask.)

Visit or re-visit anything that the campus tour didn’t cover well or include. (For instance, at Bama, the tour doesn’t include touring the new Science Complex or Business School.)

Before it’s time to leave, find out where the off-campus hangouts are and either stop for a meal or snack or do a drive by.

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>>The more we look into the colleges websites it is hard to understand their admission policies and even harder to know what scholarships/aids do they offer ( that he could qualify for) and how they administer them.<<

If I really felt that I had to visit these offices, I’d make an appt before the morning tour, so that I would have time to do the other things.

As for scholarships for those schools. Yes, many schools are rather vague and won’t say what stats will definitely get which scholarships. Sometimes that’s because they can’t award to everyone with certain stats, so the scholarships are competitive.

I believe that only Auburn and Bama have assured scholarships for specified stats as long as apps are received by Dec 1st. Was that one of your questions?

What do you mean by …..how they administer them.

Once a university scholarship is awarded and accepted, then it shows up in the student’s online account shortly before the semester starts. Is that what you mean?

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Two pieces of advice here — don’t pack the schedule too much, and be prepared to split up. At each of geek_son’s two favorite choices, he ended up spontaneously having lunch with his tour guide. I made myself scarce during those times and we reconnected later by text messages. I think it was helpful for him to spend time with students at each place without mom in tow, and those two experiences were instrumental in his decisions on where to apply and enroll.

And conversely, you might schedule an appointment to talk with the FA folks solo — while your son is in an Admissions interview or just checking out the campus for himself.

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There are more comments, so check them out.

I’ve coined a saying that I tell all my counseling clients about the necessity to visit colleges before applying or deciding about enrolling: “You’ve got to trod the sod!” That means go there and visit!

For those of you who have applied Regular Decision or who have been deferred from ED or EA, your acceptances will be rolling in soon. Then you (and perhaps your family) will have to make one of the most important decisions of your young life: where to go to college.

So, be sure to realize the importance of these visits and also be sure to plan so that you can make the very most of your time and money. You’ll be glad that you did.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.