Contributed by: Diana Rodgers
College visits can be exhausting, confusing, and overwhelming for parents and prospective students. However, it does not have to be this way! Careful planning and following a solid protocol are the secret to a positive college visit experience.
In our current admissions climate, where many talented applicants vie for only a few spaces at the most highly selective colleges and universities, it is important to excel in all of the things you can still control. While you cannot magically change your freshman year Spanish grade, you can make decisions around your college visits that may nudge you onto the accepted student list. A casual approach to college visits will give you some of the information you need to evaluate schools, but a more proactive approach will help you get the most out of your experiences on campus and your interactions with its staff.
Before you go
- The student should call the admissions office to confirm tours and information sessions will be running on the day that you plan to attend. If on campus interviews are offered, schedule an interview and complete interview prep sessions prior to the visit. Make sure to ask where to park if you will be driving.
- Research the college online. Come up with a few questions to ask your tour guide and admissions representative.
- If you are a student with a disability or a potential athlete, reach out to disability services or the coach and let them know that you’ll be on campus and would like to meet.
- Do not plan to visit more than two colleges in one day. When families cram in too many visits, the trip becomes unfocused or rushed.
Day of the visit
- Wake up earlier than you think you need to, especially if you are traveling to an unfamiliar area.
- Dress appropriately. It is possible you will meet someone responsible for making a decision on your application. If you have scheduled a formal interview or meeting with a coach or professor, wear business casual clothing (think brunch with grandma as a guide). If you are just going on a tour and to an information session, look neat and put together. Avoid high heeled shoes as campus tours often go through landscaped areas.
- Pack a small bag or backpack. You should bring a notebook, pen, mints or gum, and a small snack. Bring sunscreen, allergy medicine, feminine hygiene products, and Tylenol. You have potentially traveled a long way to see this college, so make sure that nothing preventable derails your plans.
- Eat breakfast. Visiting colleges is surprisingly exhausting; you may be traveling between two colleges or rushing to get to an appointment without time for lunch. Even if you normally do not eat breakfast, it is often worth trying to eat something.
While on campus
- Immediately go to the admission office, unless you have a meeting elsewhere.
- The student should check in with admission and ask if parking needs to be validated.
- If you are asked to sign in, use the name that will be on your high school transcripts. Even if you go by Bobby, if your transcripts and test scores will say Robert, write Robert.
- In the information session, sit close to the front.
- Be sure to ask how the college reads applications: Do they read applications regionally, by high school, or by committee? Some colleges assign an admissions counselor to every high school, often with the same counselor in every region. For example, there may be a specific person in the admissions office who makes the decision on every applicant from southeastern Pennsylvania. This system makes it possible for admissions counselors to know details about each high school in their territory and form relationships with guidance counselors. Alternatively, some colleges read by committee, which means 2-5 people read and vote on each application. If the college has an assigned admissions representative for each region or high school, you need to find out your representative’s name while on campus.
- Get the name of the person leading the information session. At the end of the session, you will likely be dismissed to the tour. If there is time and it seems appropriate, introduce yourself, shake hands, thank him or her for their time, and ask for his or her business card.
- On the campus tour, stay towards the front. At the end of the tour, ask for the tour guide to write down his or her name and email address in your notebook. Thank him or her for his or her time. Tour guides often report positive interactions with students to admissions counselors.
- If you did not like the school and think it’s because you did not like the tour guide, take a different tour. Often a tour guide with whom you did not “click”can ruin a school for a student. If everything else about the college meets your needs, you owe it to yourself to try again.
- Return to the admission office if you have learned that applications are read regionally or by high school. Ask for your representative’s business card. Occasionally, the receptionist will ask if you want to meet your representative. If this is an option, always say yes. Have a brief conversation that includes how much you enjoyed your visit and that you are looking forward to submitting your application. If you have specific questions about the application process, you can always ask this person.
- Do not send a text or answer a phone call at all while engaged with admissions.If you are expecting a phone call, tell your tour guide before the tour starts and say that you will rejoin the tour after the call.
After the visit
- Immediately following the visit, make notes in your notebook about what you liked and did not like about the college. Try emailing yourself as a backup record. It is important to keep your notes straight, especially if you are visiting multiple colleges over a few days.
- That evening, follow up with thank you emails to the tour guide, the information session leader, and your admissions counselor if you met them.Mention specific things you learned from and about this person to jog their memory of your conversation.
- If you did not meet your admissions counselor but have his or her business card, email him or her a brief message saying that you were on campus, what high school you attend, that you hope to meet them at some point in the future, and that you look forwarding to submitting your application.
- Follow up with a written thank you note if you had a pre-scheduled interview, an extended conversation with an admissions counselor, or a meeting with a coach or professor. Since very few students handwrite thank you notes, your note will make a strong impression. If possible, purchase personalized stationery. There are some great affordable options online, especially on Etsy. It is an easy way to advertise your name, and even if you only use a few during your college admissions process, they will certainly come in handy for thank you notes for high school graduation gifts!
Diana Rodgers is the Founder of Fit Education Consulting, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA, a full-service preK-graduate school admissions consulting firm committed to helping students earn admission to the educational institutions that best meet their academic, social, and emotional needs. To learn more about Fit Educational Consulting, visit their website or give Diana a call at (610) 715-6789.