"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
In the near future, most letters of acceptance will be sent out. Once your child knows what colleges want her, it's time to decide where to go. The next couple of months are a great time to visit your options and come up with that top college choice.
While many students have already visited several schools and decided upon their favorites, others haven't. Even for those who have visited, a second visit--to confirm their feelings about a particular school, or help them narrow down their college choice--certainly can't hurt.
Some students have determined their first college choice merely by comparing ranks or prestige of various institutions. However, nothing can beat seeing the campus for yourself, meeting other prospective and current students, and getting a "feel" for the campus.
"Just go in with an open mind," said Robert Rummerfield of College Visits, Inc., an organization that plans group college tours nationwide. "Sometimes just by going, you know if it's a place where you would feel comfortable.
If a school is close by, it's possible for your child to visit during a weekend or after school. Longer trips should preferably be saved for an extra long weekend or spring break to make a better college choice.
It's not a bad idea for you to go with your child on college visits, but you shouldn't steal the show.
Rummerfield believes "the student is the one who's going to [attend] and should be the one making the phone calls and setting up the visits--but [the final college choice] is definitely a family discussion."
It may be helpful to discuss what your child is looking for in a college ahead of time. Stepping on campus for the first time can prove overwhelming, and it's easy to be influenced solely by superficial aspects of the experience.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Although the student body might not seem too small or large for the few hours your child is on campus, it's important to help her with her college choice and make her reflect on how she'd feel seeing the same faces day after day or being "lost in the crowd."
See the sights
Where's the school located? Is it in a big city, or an isolated, rural town? What and where are the local amenities? Your child has to decide what she prefers--a quiet collegiate experience, a bustling city life, or something in between.
Bring a raincoat?
Especially for students considering schools far from home, it's important to consider the differing climates. Keep in mind that you should not judge a school based on the weather during a single visit, and do some research to discover normal weather conditions. Just 'cause it happens to be raining when she visits that school in California--and sunny when she gets to that Eastern college--doesn't mean much and shouldn't be the deciding factor when she makes her college choice.
Auditing a class can be a great experience--or lead to an unexpected nap. If your child can't stay awake for one lecture, how's she going to handle four years? While one professor doesn't necessarily represent the entire faculty, observing a handful of classes can give a nice cross-section. It also couldn't hurt for a student to spend some time talking with a professor one-on-one in order to make your college choice. Prospective students can make an appointment or simply drop by during office hours. Most professors would be happy to take the time. If they're unwilling to meet with your child, then that potentially shows you something about the school.
And you thought the interviews were over
Most colleges will offer your child the opportunity to meet with an admissions officer during a visit--even though she's already been accepted. This is not to evaluate her, but rather to answer any questions she might have, and give her a better idea about whether the school is a good fit for her for her to make her college choice. If it's offered, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity.
Take a tour of the campus. The guides are almost always experienced students who were in your child's shoes only a short while ago. Encourage the student to interject with pertinent questions. While it may be a bit overwhelming--especially at larger schools--it's a great way to learn what the college grounds have to offer.
Spend the night
Most schools offer the chance for prospective students-- or, at the very least, accepted students--to stay overnight in a dormitory, usually with current students. This is a great way for your child to see what it'll actually be like living there and to bond with student hosts.
It might be hard for your child to remember the specifics of each particular school as the details start to blend together after a couple of visits. Writing things down--or even taking pictures--can be extremely helpful later on while making the college choice.
"It's more than just physically being on the campus for a few hours. It really is just the start of the process" said Rummerfield. "Open up lines of communication--try to get in touch with students. Check with your [high school] counselor and see if they know former students who are attending those places."
If your child has yet to set foot on the campus of her first choice--a visit is essential. Don't neglect this very important part of the selection process. Without actually seeing the campus, listening to a professor, talking to students, and actually getting a feel for the campus, making an informed college choice is impossible. Even a student who is already sure of where she's going will appreciate being familiar with the campus on the first day of school next fall.