Weekly College Column

Lessons learned about campus visits

Right about now, as the parents of sophomores and juniors, are scheduling flights, renting cars, making hotel reservations, and booking spring break campus tours, this whole “college thing” becomes eerily real.

I thought this would be a good occasion to speak with two experienced parents; Amelia and Karen  – moms of senior sons. Both Amelia and Karen have “been there and done that” recently, and have come out the other side smiling.

Amelia, whose son Stephen is very excited to be heading to Virginia Tech next fall, found the process to be enjoyable and yes, a little stressful. The entire family took the process seriously. With two other siblings to follow Stephen, they knew that whatever they did now would set the tone for how the younger siblings would respond.

Amelia shared, “I would say that the best thing we did regarding campus visits was to start early. We looked closely at upcoming days off, vacation days, and even teacher workdays.  If you wait until summer before senior year, you may not get a “real” feel of the campus dynamics.  We made a point of visiting most schools at two different times to get an idea of school spirit, study habits, and student engagement.  Weekend sessions are very different. I also learned that colleges offer specialized sessions (engineering, business, honors college, etc.) only on certain days of the week.”

Amelia knew she was embarrassing her son on a few campus tours when she asked one too many questions. “For me, I need to know everything about the school, the retention rates, the school spirit, the laundry facilities, etc.  I always asked the tour guide about other schools they applied to and why they chose this school over the rest.  Some questions seemed appropriate in the large group setting and I left others until we were on the student-led tour. I also asked about traditions on campus, study abroad options, and the quality of the career services center.”

Amelia’s best piece of advice is to ask your child to write down their thoughts; their pros and cons, immediately after settling back in the car, because pretty soon one school can end up looking just like the rest. “I tried not to give my opinion before he did.  I didn’t want to color his observations.  I would ask the question and then wait until he was all finished to give my opinions.”

Karen, whose son Adam applied to and was accepted Early Decision at Elon University, said that she started preparing during sophomore year because she felt it was important for Adam to have a good working knowledge of each school prior to a visit. Karen made sure to ask the same questions at each school they visited. “Adam always tried to make arrangements ahead of time to meet with an admissions counselor after our tour. This helped answer questions a student guide was unsure of, and gave us a valuable point of contact.”

Karen’s family made the decision not to use vacations as an excuse to visit colleges because they wanted to spend an extended period of time at each school. Karen learned that sometimes one visit simply isn’t enough. She suggested that families “try to take advantage of Open Houses or Discovery Days offered by the schools because they give you more information.”

Karen’s biggest take-away about campus visits was the range of efforts she witnessed at different campuses. “Some schools are very proactive and really try to personalize the visit with a tour guide who is currently majoring in your child’s area of interest. Their willingness to coordinate what you may ask for beyond what is standard etc. made a big impression on me. These special touches give you even greater insight into how student-focused each college really is.”

Both Amelia and Karen found the process eye-opening.  Things have definitely changed since they went to college. They both advised families to enjoy the process because it can get overwhelming at times. Amelia’s parting thoughts are to “make sure to stay up on deadlines for testing, applications, essays, scholarships, etc., but then get the tissues ready, because the tears will come when you realize that your baby has grown up and is ready to fly on his own.”

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.com; www.bierercollegeconsulting.com



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