College Visits: What Do We Need To Know?

college visitsFamilies frequently ask us about college visits.  We’ve compiled some of the top questions we receive, and our responses, below.

Should we visit colleges?

YES!  You should visit colleges, starting as early as the 10th grade.  Your goal for visiting colleges to to gather information – about the academic life, the social life, the support system your student will have at each school.  “Are these my people?  Are they not my people?”  That’s what you should be asking as you tour colleges and talk to students.

When you do start visiting, you should sign up for an information session and an official campus tour on the college’s admissions visit page, so they know to expect you.  When you’re on campus, you should do your best to allow your student to be “in charge” – that means parents should not be the ones asking questions or directing the conversation.  In the best-case scenario, students should try to find someone on campus to chat with who is NOT a campus tour guide (tour guides are paid and scripted, most of the time!).  You should also come prepared with some questions about the campus.

When should we visit colleges?

college visit
Business building at UMass-Lowell (Magellan team visited March, 2018)

You should start visiting colleges as early as 10th grade.  At that age, your high schooler can start to see him/herself connecting with college students, and hopefully, see him/herself actually living on a college campus.  An early visit may also serve as a source of inspiration to do well in their current classes, if they realize that their grades now will play a role in where they are admitted to college.  Ninth grade is probably too early; your 9th grader probably won’t yet relate to the students s/he will see on a college campus so the prospect of going to college will seem too remote.  

Junior year, either during winter break or spring break, is a great time to visit colleges!  Make sure to check each college’s academic calendar to ensure that class is in session when you visit.  A college that is out of session will not have the same vibrant feel.

The fall of senior year is a less-than-ideal time to visit colleges – but if you really want to see a campus before you submit your application, it’s never too late.  Many of the students we work with wait until they receive their admission decision to visit, in spring of their senior year – right before they decide where to enroll!

Which colleges should we visit?

This is perhaps the top question we are asked.  You should make an effort to visit a broad spectrum of colleges!  If you’re visiting family in New York, don’t just visit NYU and Columbia.  Visit Fordham, Pace, Cooper Union (if you have an artist or an engineer), Sarah Lawrence.  It’s true for all cities – don’t just visit the top ranked or Ivy League schools every place you go!  Visit small schools, large schools, state flagship universities, regional public universities, liberal arts colleges, colleges you’ve never heard of – visit them all!  This will help your student see AND FEEL the difference between each of these environments.  Feel free to give us a call if you want some suggestions!

What should we do when we’re on campus?

The first thing you should do is park your car and get out.  I’m not saying this to be funny – I’m saying this to illustrate a very important point:  a college “drive-by” is not a visit.  You may as well not be there.  You may as well just look at the pictures on their website.  Your teenager won’t be able to tell if the students here are “his people” or not as you drive by.

You should plan to be on each campus you visit for at least three hours.  Usually colleges have information sessions that last from 30 minutes to an hour, and most campus tours are about an hour.  If you have time, you should do any or all of these:

  • Call the academic department in which your student is most interested, and ask if someone from the department can meet with you
  • Eat a meal in the campus dining hall
  • Tour the dorms and residential facilities, if they are not included in the main campus tour
  • Find someone in the quad – someone who is not a tour guide – and chat with them for a few minutes
college visit
Evelyn visited the College of Wooster in April, 2018.

After your visit, write down your impressions of the colleges so you don’t forget.  When you visit more than a few colleges – or even two in one day – they may run together in your head!

Here’s Magellan’s Campus Visit guide to help you plan and organize your college visit:

Magellan College Counseling Campus Visit Packet

Most of all – visiting a college campus should be a time when your student really thinks about whether or not this place could be “home” for four years.  THAT’S the goal.  For more on what that looks and feels like, you can read this post, with a short video from my tour guide at Michigan State.  If you leave with your student feeling that this is not a good fit, it hasn’t been a waste of time.  Just like with many things in life, knowing what you don’t like is as important as knowing what you like!


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