Time to Trod the Sod

I’ve coined a phrase that I use frequently when advising prospective applicants and their Moms and Dads about the necessity to visit colleges before applying: “You’ve got to trod the sod!”

Spending four years and likely many thousands of dollars on a college education is not something to be taken lightly. Landing on the wrong campus, with a bad “fit,” can be sheer misery, so take the college visit requirement seriously.

For those of you parents with children who are about to enter their senior high school year, your summer plans should include visits to candidate colleges. The summer is a great time to do some investigation of where your kids might like to go to school.

All colleges offer summer tour programs. Because it’s sometimes easier to combine visits with summer vacation plans, you may want to do so. If you already have vacation plans in place, see if you can make a detour to the campuses of some of those schools your son or daughter is considering. Who knows? Your vacation might be in the neighborhood of schools on the list.

If you haven’t made vacation plans yet, you have the perfect opportunity to tailor a college-visit trip. A vacation such as this can be more enjoyable and entertaining than you might think. Many colleges are located in very picturesque areas featuring significant tourist attractions.

Consider the advantage of visiting schools over the summer. If your senior-to-be has a list of, say, five or six candidate schools, a summer visit might help him or her refine the list to three or four before the new school year begins. College campuses are always lovely during the summer. The only time when the they appear more beautiful is in October, when the leaves have changed to their autumn splendor. Summertime is a relaxed period because there are far fewer students on campus. There may be some construction going on, but that’s normal for the time of year.

One concern parents often have about college visits is how to remember the unique aspects, advantages, and seeming shortfalls of all the colleges visited on a summer swing. One creative solution that was posted recently on the College Confidential’s discussion forum provides an elegant solution. Go to each college’s bookstore and buy a postcard that pictures the college being visited. Write all your (and your son’s or daughter’s) pertinent thoughts and questions on it and mail it home. When you return, you’ll have a neat collection of all your thoughts posted to a memento of each college you visited. Very clever, and it works. You’ll then recall what school had what program or special accommodations.

Jeff Selingo, writing in an informative article for LinkedIn, proffers some additional points about college visits. Here are a few highlights:

- Focus on the End, Not Just Getting In

A college education is an investment. While there is no single way to determine if the school you selected is worth the price tag, by weighing various available measures you can better assess if a college is worth at least the debt you might take on to go there. …

- What If You End Up Not Liking It—Will You Be Able to Move?

… Among the questions to ask: What is the percentage of students who transfer in each year? What percentage of transfer credits does the college take each year? For those it denies, on what basis does it not take the credits? …

- Is the College In It For You?

Find out if the school’s priorities are more about gaining prestige or in educating students. Among the questions to ask: Did an accreditor ever take action against the school or was accreditation ever denied for any reason? What is the percentage of students who get A’s? B’s? What is the percentage of full-time faculty? …

- Is the College Preparing You for the First Job or the Fifth Job?

Among the questions to ask: Do students work on deep research projects outside of class? How many students participate in internships or field work? Do students have an opportunity to participate in community-based projects? …

So, Mom and Dad, if your son or daughter can fine-tune his or her candidate list by the beginning of senior year, your plans can include follow-up visits to the finalist schools. Fall is the time to arrange for the overnight stay. Have your senior contact the admissions offices and inquire about hosting programs. The overnighter should confirm any perceptions about a particular school.

As your child heads toward college, take the time to plan college visits. A small investment in time now can save significant time, money, and hassles during the college application period that’s coming sooner than you think!

Rising seniors: One more time: You’ve got to trod the sod! Send yourself a text message so you wont forget.