After three years of exploring numerous college and universities with my two teenage sons, I’ve gradually developed a formula for getting the most out of our time on campus. Here are some of the tips that have helped to make our visits less of a chore and more of an adventure:
Based on conversations with the experts, including high school guidance counselors, college admissions staff, student tour guides, and college admissions consultants, the ideal time to begin visiting campuses is in the sophomore and junior years of high school. Freshman year most kids aren’t ready developmentally and senior year is cutting it a little close for both parents and teens.
There are two ways to experience a college visit, either at an Open House, an all-day event where everything is planned for you, or a more informal visit where you take part in a scheduled admissions meeting and campus tour but you’re on your own for the rest of the day. We’ve done it both ways and each has its own merits.
It’s also important to plan your visit when “real” students are on campus going about their normal routines. Visiting during summer vacation or exam time isn’t likely to give you a realistic look at the school. Our family has found Columbus Day weekend, February break, and the April vacation week to be the best times to plan our trips.
If you’re able to coordinate visits to several colleges and universities in the same geographical area you can save both time and money. A word of warning though, more than one or two visits a day will send you all into information overload and make everyone cranky so don’t over schedule yourselves.
Let Your Teen Lead
Have your son or daughter research the college ahead of time to see what the school offers visitors, including any special opportunities in their intended major. They can also be in charge of registering or signing you all up for the Open House or tours.
Once this is done, something I found helpful was to sit down with my sons a day or two ahead of the visit and make a tentative outline for the day that includes time for both scheduled and unscheduled activities (like meals).
Next up-What to do once you arrive on campus!