Winter and spring breaks are usually popular campus visit opportunities.
For seniors, that means going back to “Accepted Student Days” or making a second visit on a typical school day. It may take multiple visits to make this important decision. It’s essential to sit in on a class or two, meet with faculty in a specific department, and consider spending the night on campus. If you will be using accommodations in college – such as extended time on exams – visit the Accessibility / Disability office to get a handle on their procedures and to find out if they offer any additional support.
Juniors, on the other hand, will likely be visiting for the first time and deciding whether to keep a given school on their list.
During Covid, colleges are offering many options virtually (minus the overnight!). If a given school is not yet open for in-person visits, plan to spend more time over school vacation weeks. Start with a virtual tour and information session – these can be found on the college’s admissions website. Even if you will tour the school in person, it makes sense to attend a virtual information session at home before you get to campus.
It’s helpful to visit before May so that students will still be on campus prior to their summer break. While most schools start offering tours again in June – and the summer can work for an initial visit – if you like the school, make sure to return when students are there.
Remember as well to always “officially” sign up for a tour and information session, whether it is in person or virtual. This way, the admissions department knows you were there, and you get “credit” for visiting.
Consider each of these factors as you learn about colleges. Take notes! (Seniors will want to get into more detail in each of these areas.):
Academics: What is the strength of the school or the program your student is interested in pursuing? How strong is advising for students who are undecided on what they want to study? How accessible are the professors? Are teaching assistants used to teach? Is the school’s emphasis on undergraduate teaching or on graduate research? Is the atmosphere more competitive or collaborative? What is the level of student stress?
Class size: How large are the freshman classes? (This is not the same as the faculty-to-student ratio.)
Graduation Rates: These may be reported as four-year and/or six-year rates. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples across schools.
Retention: What is the percentage of freshmen who return as sophomores? Compare this to other schools of a similar nature.
Support: Are there resources to help with the transition to college? Are there writing, math and foreign language labs? Is there a fee for content tutoring? Are the tutors peers, grad students or faculty? Is there help with time management, organization and study skills? Does faculty tend to notice if a student is struggling and recommend resources?
Internships: What percent of students complete internships? (A college degree is not always enough these days!) Does the school (career services) help secure the internships?
Housing: What percent of students live on campus? Is housing guaranteed all four years? Are there any living / learning communities? If students live off campus, are they commuters from home or do they live in near-by housing?
Student Body: What is the level of diversity in all areas – racial, socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, geographical, etc.? What is the level of tolerance for differences? Is there a political leaning one way or another? Do at least some of the students seem like people you could be friends with?
Campus life: Do the students look happy? (Keep in mind that no one looks happy on a college campus early in the morning or when they are dashing to class in the rain.) Try to talk to students in addition to the tour guide. Ask what they like about their school and what they wish were different.
- What percentage of kids goes home on the weekends?
- Are there plenty of activities for students who are not interested in parties?
- Is there Greek Life and, if yes, how dominant is it?
- Are there ample opportunities for volunteering?
- Does the school have the amount of school spirit you are looking for?
- Do students regularly attend sports games or dance, music, drama performances?
- Where do students go when they want to get off campus?
Location: How easy/expensive is it to get home and how much does that matter?
Finances: It’s important to consider the overall expense to graduate. Look at the percentage of kids who graduate in four years and consider the extra cost if additional time is often needed at a particular school. All schools now have a “Net Price Calculator” to get an early estimate of any financial aid your child may be awarded.
Pandemic or not, exploring colleges takes a bit of time and effort. Plan to get started soon so that you can begin sharpening your preferences and narrowing your list to those that seem like the best fit!