Spring is here (maybe not if you live in the Northeast) and it’s time for juniors to start visiting colleges. It’s also time for seniors to revisit the colleges that have offered them admission. Most experts believe the college visit is crucial to making an informed college decision. Based on my personal experience with both my children, I would have to agree.
Why is the college visit important?
As a parent of two kids who attended college, I learned a very valuable lesson: never pick a college sight unseen. The rules that apply to any major purchase are even more important when making the decision to invest thousands of dollars on a college education. You would never buy a car without test-driving it, or move into a home without taking a walk-through and getting a home inspection.
Walking around campus, getting a feel for the surroundings, meeting students and sitting in on some classes if possible should help you make a more informed decision about the college. Without visiting, it’s hard to imagine yourself being there and attending. Additionally, the visit gives you an opportunity to schedule an interview, meet with professors, speak with financial aid, and show the college you are interested.
What should you look for during a visit?
Before choosing a college, every student should look for these three factors: academic fit, financial fit, and emotional fit. A good college list should have these three “fit” criteria:
Does the college fit into your academic aspirations? This might seem like a no-brainer, but the education is a key factor in attending college. Cross the college off the list if it doesn’t fit into your academic learning style. For instance, are you looking for smaller class sizes and strong relationships with professors? A larger university won’t offer this. During the college visit, you can meet with professors to discuss course offerings and get a feel for the academic learning style at the college.
Does the college fit into your family’s budget? If it doesn’t fit financially, cross it off the list. While you should never consider a college solely based on the sticker price, you should certainly examine what will happen if you are accepted and don’t receive any financial aid. No student wants to be shackled with huge amounts of student loan debt. Meet with the financial aid office to discuss aid and costs during the college visit.
Can you see yourself attending college there? When you visit the campus, does it “feel” right and do you have a rapport with the students you came in contact with? You might think college shouldn’t be an emotional decision, but it is. After all, you will be spending at least four years of your life there. If you don’t fit into the social climate you will be miserable.
What do you do if you can’t visit the campus due to distance or financial constraints?
Fortunately, there are numerous online sources to help you learn more about the colleges you are interested in attending. First, look at the videos that have been posted on the college website. Most are informative and helpful as an introduction to campus life. Of course, this will give you a view from the college itself and will be biased.
Consider viewing some student produced videos: YouUniversityTV and Unigo. Both sites offer reviews and videos from actual students. These will give you a better picture of what campus is like from the eyes of the students, without administrative influences. You can also talk to students as well.
Talk with students, staff and professors during College Week Live’s live events, on the college’s Facebook page, and on social media sources like Twitter and Instagram. Ask questions and engage with students and faculty.
If you can’t visit in real life, these resources should help you get a feel for the campus and get to know the students.
Make the College Visit a Priority
When my daughter was a senior in high school, she was offered admission to two colleges in the Boston area. Being from Texas, we did not visit before she applied. But knowing the importance of the college visit, we made arrangements to visit the campuses before she accepted any offer. One of the colleges offered her a full-ride scholarship. However, it just wasn’t a good fit. If we hadn’t visited it before accepting their offer, she would have never found her perfect fit college, also in Boston. The visits made all the differences.
As you can see, it’s not an exact science. You can plan and prepare all you want, do your research before visiting, and make a list of likes and dislikes prior to pulling up to campus. But it’s the college visit that will have a lasting impact on your college decision.