Spring break’s upon us, and high schoolers everywhere will be descending upon college campuses to get a clearer picture about whether each school is the right “fit.” College visits are such an important part of the entire college search and planning process.
Check out the list of tips and strategies below for ensuring your teen’s college visits are as productive as possible.
(And while you’re at it, snag your free College Visit Checklist to help your teen keep track of what to do on each visit and how each school ranks compared to others.)
Before You Go
Arrange for a tour
This is as simple as visiting the school’s website and registering for a tour within the admissions pages. You can even Google the college name and the word “visit” or “tour,” and you’ll find just what you’re looking for.
Book a hotel early
If you’re traveling, this is key. You’d be surprised at the influx of parents and students descending on each college town, and how quickly hotel rooms are sold out. You’ll thank me for this one.
Do some research
Make sure your teen gets online to do some solid research about each school to learn what it has to offer, and how that compares with what she’s looking for academically and socially.
Create a list of questions
Encourage your teenager to write down a list of things they’d like to find out more about after doing their initial research. Questions like “What’s the student-faculty ratio for the major I’m interested in?” or “What tutoring services are available?” are examples of great questions to ask college admissions folks or the tour guide on college visits. Your teen should avoid any questions that can be researched at the college website, though The answer to “Do you offer a business major?” can easily be found online.
Find a map of the campus
Print out a map of the campus (or queue it up on your phone) from the college website prior to leaving and find where the admissions office is. That’ll likely be your starting point.
Download the College Visit Checklist
Print out one checklist for each college your teen visits to keep on track with what should be done at each college visit and to help rank each school against the others. A really useful tool!
While You’re There
Sit in on a class
College classes are usually much different than what students have encountered in high school. Sitting in on a lecture hall class is a great way for your teen to experience what to expect.
Wander around campus
Don’t just stick to the formal tour. Your teen can get a good glimpse into college life by blending in and observing what campus life entails.
Eavesdrop on students’ conversations
Your teen can learn a lot from what students are talking about on campus. Complaining about the dorm? Are they excited about a class? Meeting up after school for study groups? Each student interaction gives a little glimpse inside of the campus culture.
Talk to students
One of the best ways to get insight into what a college is really like is for your teenager to simply ask students who attend there. Questions like “What’s your favorite thing about going to school here? Least favorite?” and “What’s the social vibe like on campus?” will garner some really valuable insight.
Grab a student newspaper + read bulletin boards
Learn about what students are talking about, what they’re interested in and events happening around campus in this way.
Take good notes
When visiting more than one college, things start to meld together after a while. Taking 10 minutes after visiting a college to write down likes, dislikes and things to remember about each school is a great way to keep everything straight to help compare them later on. The College Visit Checklist will help with this.
Encourage your teen to take photos of what she’d like to remember about each college (dorms, dining halls, things that appeal to her – or don’t). A photo journal, paired with the notes she takes, will be invaluable going forward when reflecting on each school.
Eat in the dining hall
Your teen will have an opportunity to experience what the food’s like. And seeing how the students interact in that environment can be very informative, too.
Explore the Student Union Building
Most colleges have a place where students can relax, eat, mingle, lounge and study. Your teenager can get an inside look into the student social scene on campus here and listen in on student conversations to learn what the culture is like.
After Your Visit
Explore the city
Your teenager will be recreating in and around the city and town where he attends college, so it’s important that he likes the area. Spend time driving around, exploring the town and engaging in other popular activities in the area.
Talk with your teenager about colleges. What did she like? Dislike? What stood out most? What are her feelings about where she might feel most comfortable? Why? Writing down pros and cons about each school is a helpful practice to compare schools in an organized way and to remember what she experienced and how she felt at each.
Write thank you notes
It leaves a great impression on admissions teams, professors, and the tour guide when students extend the extra effort to thank them for their time and the information they provided. And since each interaction with a college counts positively toward your teen’s application there later on, this little bit of constructive effort goes an even longer way!
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Let’s continue the conversation! What tips do you have to make the most out of college visits? Leave a comment below.