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7 Things to Know before You Embark on Your First College Visit

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Ivy Dawned

Over the next month thousands of high school students will descend upon colleges across the country for official college visits. For high school seniors it will undoubtedly be the last time they visit their top picks before making their final decision. But, for many sophomores and juniors it will be the first time they visit colleges.

To make the most of their visits, Kelly Queijo, founder of Smart College Visit, Inc. and publisher of SmartCollegeVisit.com, recommended the following tips for high school students and their parents during #CollegeChat.

1. Plan on visiting colleges in earnest by your junior year of high school. According to Queijo most high school students start visiting colleges in the fall and spring of their senior year. But Queijo recommends that families consider informal visits to colleges earlier if their students are interested.

“Many families start the visits even earlier working them into drive throughs or informal visits while on business or on family vacations,” Queijo explained.  “Walking tours of campus, formal or on your own is good exposure for younger teens but sitting though formal presentations may be too soon.”

Sharon McLaughlin, founder of McLaughlin Education Consulting, recommends that students start their formal visits even earlier. McLaughlin recommends that rising juniors have their preliminary list of colleges ready by June so they can start their visits in the summer before their junior year begins. Suzanne Shaffer, founder of ParentsCountdowntocollegecoach.com, agreed. “I say start preliminary visits sophomore year, narrowing your schools down. Then hit it hard the spring of junior year.”

2. Visit colleges when classes are in session. Ideally, students should plan their visits based on the college calendar and not on the high school calendar. While it may be most convenient to visit a school during the college’s spring break, the high school student will not get an accurate picture of the college then.

“Sign up for visits online and call the admissions office to arrange your visit,” says Jeannie Borin, founder of College Connections.  Once at the college, students should make a point to sign in at the Admissions Office recommended Angela Quitadamo. Sign in, admissions track visits.”

Parents also need to “let the students do the talking” advised Jennifer Cohen, president of Word-Nerd.com. “Parents should not dominate the information sessions and tours. I hated it when kids felt like they couldn’t get a word in.”

Queijo advised that students visit the college that they are most interested in last. “I learned of this tip from Eric Yaverbaum’s book, “Life’s Little College Admissions Insights: Top Tips from the Country’s Most Acclaimed Guidance Counselors”. It makes sense that saving the best for last will help a student better evaluate if the best really is the best college. You will have a better frame of reference then,” she said.

3. Go beyond the official college tour to get the real picture. Queijo recommends that high school students talk with current students for the inside track. Ask them “What don’t you like about your school?”

“Official tours are good, but remember these students love the school. You may not hear legitimate criticism,” said Cohen. Jonathan Hoster, from the Admissions Office of Syracuse University, concurred adding that after getting credit for visiting, students should “venture out on their own after the formal tour. Sneak into the back of a class.”

“Find the center of campus, sit down and observe for at least 30 minutes,” advised Borin. “See who walks by and whether you can relate.” Borin suggested that students take a camera and notebook to their visit. She noted that many students forget where they saw what when visiting many colleges over a period of time. She also recommended that students visit departments of interest if possible.

Kelly Rivard, a college student majoring in interactive media studies, went on two college visits at the college she is attending.  “I made two trips to my school. One an individual tour and one on a group tour. The individual tour made the difference.”

4.     Remember to apply the 2-2-2 rule. According to Queijo, the 2-2-2 rule comes from Dr. Richard E. Bavaria, senior vice president for education outreach at Sylvan Learning. The rule means visit no more than 2 schools in 1 day, ask 2 questions, and make sure to talk with 2 students or 2 professors. The 2-2-2 rule keeps the college visit process simple, consistent, and engaging with each school.

5.     Search online for travel deals in advance of your visit. One of the first online sites to check for travel deals is the web site of the college you are interested in visiting. Many times the college itself will be able point visitors to discount on travel. SmartCollegeVisit.com provides travel deals through the web sites travel planning tools.

6.     Try to schedule an overnight campus visit. One of the best ways to see and experience a college is through an overnight visit in the dorm. These visits vary from school to school and the best way to arrange them is directly through the Admissions Office reported Queijo. Generally, most schools recommend students contact the Admissions Office two weeks before a student would like to visit.

7.     Go online if you can’t go in person. Thanks to technology including video tours, virtual tours and fairs like CollegeWeekLive, students now have a multitude of options to explore campuses even if they can’t go in person Queijo explained. CollegeWeekLive is the world’s largest college fair and is supported by the US Department of Education.  CollegeWeekLive Spring is from March 23-24, 2011 with other events planned for the rest of the year.

“Visit colleges nearby if you can’t travel far,” advised Borin. “It’s good for students to see what they like and what they don’t like.” By visiting a college of a similar size students can get an appreciation of what that size of school feels like to them.