Be Smart in Planning and Carrying Out College Visits

Many students either don’t do college visits (bad idea) or go on their visits with little or no preparation (also a bad idea). Here are some tips so you can make the most of the few hours you’re on a college campus.

1. Check with your school counselor to determine your particular school’s policy on being absent for college visits. For example, the district where I work allows both juniors and seniors to visit colleges three times and those absences are considered “excused” absences. The student needs to bring in some sort of proof they were visiting a college in order to have it be considered an excused absence, but that’s something as simple as a signed and dated note from a college’s academic advisor.

2. You are the one that needs to set up the visit, not your parent or guardian. You are the one going to college; you are the one who needs to take the initiative. It’s OK to discuss what to say and ask with someone before placing the phone call, but you are the one who has to do it.

3. Ask to set up an appointment with both an academic advisor for the university as well as a representative from the department where your potential major is housed and make sure that you clearly explore what the major looks like and what work it entails. This information can come from the potential advisor or from students walking around the offices and classrooms. Also visit with someone in the financial aid office, the on-campus housing office, and if you have an IEP (individualized educational program) you’ll want to meet with a representative from the Office for Students with Disabilities. You’ll want to gather information about campus life in general but also detailed information about your specific major or what you’re considering as your major, scholarships, housing, additional support to assist with your classes, etc. This may require multiple phone calls, but they’re important people to see.

4. Develop a list of questions in advance for each person you’re going to meet. Can’t think of what to ask? Talk with your high school counselor, he or she may already have a list of suggestions, websites such as this one may have ideas as do several websites. Also, ask your parent or guardian what kind of information they’d like to know and add those questions to the list.

5. When you’re developing your list of questions, you might want to use a separate sheet of paper for each one. If you’re really into organization you can use a color-coding system so when you’re comparing schools you’ll know which color represented which aspect of the campus. For example, general campus information questions could be on white paper, financial aid information on green (the color of money), housing on yellow, specific major on blue, etc. Then, after you’ve completed each of your visits to all the colleges you can manage to get to, when it comes time to compare information you’ll be able to tell which sheets go with which topic. Make certain to put enough space between each question to record the answers you receive, and put the name of the college at the top along with the date you visited and the contact information for the person you spoke with. If the person gives you a business card, staple it to the correct page. Put together one folder for each university to hold your questions list, pamphlets you receive on your visit, and other materials you may collect.

6. On the day of your visit be certain to dress nicely but comfortably, and definitely wear shoes you can walk in easily. I’ve heard students say things like it’s only a school, why should they have to dress up? Well, that “only a school” is filled with people whose entire professions are focused on educating you. That is a professional place of employment, you want them to treat you with respect then you need to show them respect in the way you present yourself, and that first impression is in how you dress. Do not, under any circumstances, do the “saggin’ and baggin’” routine on your campus visit. Also, many campuses are large, the buildings are spread out, so you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. Those six-inch stiletto pumps might be adorable, and you may have purchased them in the colors of the school you want to attend, but they’ll slow you down on the campus tour, which will leave an impression but is it the impression you want to make? Finally, be on time, be friendly, be on time, use your manners, and be on time. In case you missed it, be on time.

7. During your visit remember to ask your questions, but if you’re part of a group do not monopolize the representative’s time. Allow other participants to ask questions, and listen to both the question and the answer carefully. Others may ask questions you hadn’t even considered, or they’ll ask a question you already had on your list, but either way you’re going to learn what you needed to know and you’ll be doing it in a manner that is respectful and polite. Also, if there are other students in the group don’t be afraid to ask them questions too, such as why they’re considering that university, what other universities are they thinking of attending and why, and what schools they have crossed off their list and why.

8. Expect your parents to ask questions too. Parents have two jobs to do. First, they are supposed to raise you to be a self-sufficient and independent young woman or young man, which means they want what is best for you, they want to protect you, and they want to be certain your needs are met. Second, they are supposed to embarrass you. Yes, they’re going to ask the questions that will make you want to crawl under a rock, change your name, and move to a different country. That’s their job, accept it, you’ll be fine … mortified temporarily, but fine. Let them ask their questions; don’t make a big deal over it, they’re just being parents.

9. Do not spend your entire day on the college campus itself. Yes, you’ll be spending a lot of time on campus, but you won’t be spending every waking moment there. Drive through the surrounding neighborhood and notice things like grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc. What is it that you enjoy doing now when you aren’t in school? Look for places to do those same things when you’re in college. Your quality of life depends on getting a solid education, but you’re also going to need some down time once in a while; make certain you can do that easily.

10. Send thank-you notes! You’ve collected the contact information for every person you spoke to on your visit; be certain to thank them for their time. Mail a real, live, handwritten card or letter if possible. It’s more personal and will make you stand out from the crowd. The volume of e-mail is growing tremendously, and it’s easy to overlook an e-mail message, so a handwritten thank-you note has value. However, if you think of more questions in the days subsequent to your visit, it’s good to e-mail those because responding is going to be much easier in an electronic message.

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