PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 175 | Be Careful About Campus Visits

Be careful about which college campuses to visit. Visiting the wrong campus, at the wrong time, could create unintended consequences.

Show notes:

In this episode, I argue against the common advice to "visit as many college campuses as you can. The more the better."

Sometimes, visiting a college campus can work against your child (and you).

Find out what could go wrong if you choose to visit the wrong campus, at the wrong time, without any forethought.

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. in today's episode, I want to pass along a word of caution to all the families out there who are visiting college campuses to help their kids become familiar with different colleges and campus environments. And this may come across slightly more pessimistic than I normally would be, but it's only because I hear a lot of stories that don't always pan out. And I want to make sure that you're aware of some of the unintended consequences of some very common advice. And this has only come to my attention in the last three or four years or so. So it's a relatively new phenomenon and one that I hope will disappear as quickly as it came on. One bit of common advice is to visit colleges campuses at every opportunity you can. If you're on a road trip to the East Coast, check out a bunch of colleges while you're there. If you're on summer vacation in California, pay a visit to any campus within driving distance. Big school. Small school. Public. Private. Rural. Urban. Check them all out. The idea is that visiting colleges and a variety of campuses will give your child a feel for what different campuses look and feel like. And teenagers are usually pretty good about getting a certain vibe, if you will, about certain places. And there's nothing wrong, per se, with this advice.

[00:01:54] In fact, I've been a purveyor of some of that very same advice in my prep videos, and I've taken this advice myself with my own sons. I happen to have had positive results with this method, so I take this advice with a grain of salt. It works for some students and not for others. But with the way college admissions is going and with the cost of college, I'm not sure this strategy of visiting every campus you can without a lot of forethought makes as much sense anymore. Let me explain. Let's say you have a freshman daughter in high school and you're on a family vacation in San Jose, California. And while you're visiting with relatives, someone recommends that you take a visit to Stanford. It's not very far away. You have a free afternoon. So on the surface, it seems like a fun idea. After all, you've been told over and over that it's important to see as many different campuses as you can. So why not kill two birds with one stone? So you drive to Stanford and it's 75 degrees out. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. There's a slight breeze out of the west. There are beautiful looking people walking around in their Birkenstocks and they're flip flops. You see a few students playing Frisbee on the quad and a study group sitting on Adirondack chairs sipping from their Jamba juices. And a few other students sailing by on their scooters. Campus life looks pretty good. And you eventually meet up with your tour guide who happens to be smart and attractive and high energy and a fount of knowledge about all things Stanford. And you then proceed to take the 45 minute walking tour of the campus, checking out some classrooms, the fitness facilities, sauntering through the bookstore, watching a bunch of students frolicking in the knee deep water inside the fountain in the roundabout, and ending up back at the rotunda where you started.

[00:03:55] And the tour ends. And as you make your way back to the rental car to head back to Analysis house, your daughter looks at you starry eyed and says, Mom, I'm going to Stanford. I have to go to this place. Thank you so much for bringing me here. And you proceed to take one big gulp and wonder what you've gotten yourself into. And lo and behold, this obsession with Stanford has begun. And it could take quite some time to convince your daughter that Stanford may not be the only college where she would be happy. Because the truth is Stanford is a tough place to get into, as we all know. Even for the masters of the universe out there. Even if she happened to be one of the 3% of the applicants who do get in. Who's to say that you'll even have $100,000 a year to pay for it three years from now? Teenagers have a tendency to lock in on things at a very young age when they're very impressionable, and it can be very difficult to unwind the vision they have in their head. Now, sometimes that works to their advantage because it gives them a challenging target to shoot for, and sometimes it doesn't work out so well. So what's the moral of the story here? The takeaway is that you may not want to be so casual or so cavalier about which colleges to visit and when. And again, I know this is contrary to the conventional wisdom, but I think it's worth thinking about. You might want to take a minute. To consider what impact a particular experience might have on your child. And by the way, that experience could be good or bad. The opposite may happen, too.

[00:05:40] There may be a school that you know is perfect for your daughter and it's affordable and it has all the bells and whistles you think she'll like. But it's raining and cold during your campus visit, and the tour guide is a bore. And forever more. She'll think of that college as cold and wet with lame students, and she won't give it another look. Oops. These. You just blew up that opportunity because of circumstances out of your control. Or were they out of your control? And of course, when it comes to the Stanford's of the world, I'm generalizing here. There may be good reason to believe that this fictitious ninth grade girl has a chance to get into Stanford. And if that's the case, and you think there's good reason to check it out, by all means, go for it. I'm not suggesting that you keep your child locked up to avoid any potential disappointment. I simply want you to think about what you're doing before you impulsively visit any and all college campuses. And obviously you could substitute Stanford in this story with dozens of other high profile colleges that if you hit their campuses on a good day, could cast a long lasting spell on your child. You can literally be 172 degrees sunny day away or one especially charming tour guide away from your child losing all grip on reality. And with that, their expectations can be thrown way out of whack. I'll give you a personal example. I was with my son on a recruiting trip to a very prestigious school, and it happened to be a beautiful day. And we were waiting for the coach on a very picturesque bridge that spanned across a postcard perfect river. There were crew boats on the river rowing by.

[00:07:34] We were just hanging out there, taking it all in. And lo and behold, from the other side of the bridge. This group of 3 to 4 girls, all about six feet tall, attractive, blond hair, athletic looking. They looked maybe Norwegian or Swedish. They come running by in their crew outfits on a training run, and they start eyeballing my son, probably because he's six foot seven and they're all six feet or above. And my son eyeball them back as 17 year olds are wont to do. And he looked at me sheepishly and said, Dad, I think I could get used to this place. And he was smitten. And from then on, he had a picture in his head of that perfect moment on the bridge. Now, eventually, like most 17 year old boys, his attention turned to something else by the next morning. But the, quote unquote, vibe of that one momentary encounter had an impact on him. And you just never know where that might lead. In his case, had he decided to go to that school and not the Naval Academy. We're talking about a $400,000 swing in his cost of attendance. Meaning it costs $0 to go to the Naval Academy and $400,000 to go to the school. With the bridge over the river, with the attractive female rowers running by. That would be a pretty costly vibe to pursue. So again, contrary to conventional wisdom, I would be careful about what colleges you choose to visit and in what order and in what season and what the weather is like, as superficial as that may seem, because the consequences may not turn out the way you had hoped. Let's say your freshman daughter can't let go of that vision of Stanford. She has in her head from the campus tour, and she begins to obsess about it and ignores every other option out there.

[00:09:33] And what happens then if she isn't as academically gifted as she thought she would be, or that you had expected her to be, or even if she is academically gifted, maybe she doesn't have the juice that she needs to land her in The 3% of the highly qualified students that do get admitted to Stanford, or maybe worse, she ends up in that 3% pool, gets admitted, and you don't have $100,000 a year to send her there. I'm not sure which scenario is worse. Neither one is that great. And if she ends up not tracking for a school like Stanford for a number of reasons, which is probably the most likely scenario statistically, at some point someone has to break her. The news that Stanford is not in the cards. In some cases, the only schools that may be in the cards for her because of her academic profile or financial limitations or both may be California State schools. Not that there's anything wrong with those schools. But when you compare California state schools to Stanford, it can be a tough pill to swallow for students who've been dreaming and obsessing about Stanford for three years. So where does this leave us? Are we now, as parents, supposed to predict the future and take our best guess as to whether our children have what it takes to get into a particular college before we even visit? Well, yes, kind of. How would we even know? In eighth grade. Ninth grade, 10th grade. There are ways of knowing, as I tried to allude to every week, or at least to make good guesses. And how are we supposed to know how much money will cost us to go to any particular school? Well, there are actually a couple of good ways to figure this out, at least to get in the ballpark so you can take on that chore.

[00:11:25] What about the argument that taking your child to a high aspiration college will give them the motivation that they need to get on track and work really hard in high school because now they have a target to shoot for? Why would I want to deprive my child of shooting for the stars? How should I know what my child is capable of as a freshman in high school? These are all valid questions. And of course, you should consider your child's maturity level when visiting colleges. Are they prone to getting obsessed about something and then not letting it go? Is that a good or a bad thing? What normally happens in this scenario is that if this girl is in the ballpark of getting into Stanford and she still doesn't get in most of the time, God willing, she'll be bummed for a few days, maybe a few weeks. But once she settles into whatever college she does attend, the Stanford thing usually won't linger. They usually get over it and they move on with their lives. How long it takes, we don't really know. But this usually is not a thing that lasts forever. Usually. So here is a checklist that I'd like you to go through when thinking about whether or not to make a campus visit. Number one, does my child have a realistic chance to get into that particular college? And hopefully if you've been listening to this podcast, you'll probably get a feel for whether your child is barking up the wrong tree or not. I know it can be tough to predict where your child may end up when they're only in ninth or 10th grade. But at this point, most people have a sense. You may want to do a little due diligence ahead of time to see what the selectivity is like at a particular college.

[00:13:05] Obviously, it's safer to go to a college that you think your child will have a realistic chance of getting into. It gets dicier if you're going to a super selective school because you know ahead of time that the odds are stacked against them. So why risk having them fall in love with a school that is not going to be on their radar? So, for example, if you're thinking about visiting places like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, MIT, the Naval Academy, and some dozen other such schools, and your child is someone who might get wrapped up in the campus to the point of obsession. And you're worried about setting up unrealistic expectations. You probably want to think through the following questions. Number one, will my child be a recruited athlete? Number two, have I donated eight figures to the school? These days, that's usually the amount of money that's going to get some attention from emissions. Number three, am I a faculty member at the school? Number four is this my alma mater? Number five, would I be a full payer at this school or would my child need financial aid? Number six Is my child interested in an under subscribed major? Number seven is my child, an underrepresented minority group. Number eight, does my child check any diversity, equity and inclusion boxes, including sex, gender, sexual orientation, Race. First generation college student. Number nine, Does my child bring any geo diversity to the school or are they coming from an overrepresented area like a New York, a New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Northern Virginia, D.C.? Number ten Will my child have an ROTC scholarship that they plan to use at the school? Number 11 Does my child go to a private school? It's not necessarily a good thing in this case.

[00:15:10] Number 12, does my child go to a school where 80% of the graduating class applies to this particular college? Number 13, am I a celebrity or am I a well known head of state? And number 14 is my child a celebrity? And lastly, number 15, obviously. Will my child have a near-flawless academic record? Will they have taken rigorous classes? Will they have gotten a strong S.A.T. or A.C.T. score? These are just the baseline prerequisites in all these things that I've just listed. These are known as hooks or tippers or bumps. These are characteristics that guide admissions officers when they're assembling their classes. Many of these so-called institutional priorities are not widely publicized ahead of time, if at all. So you have to figure out what those buckets are at a particular college or take a good guess and then make an educated guess as to whether your child might be in one of those preferred buckets in a few years. For example, if your daughter is white or Asian and very smart and motivated and active in school and an athlete and a musician and a leader and she volunteers in her spare time and she goes to a private school in an overrepresented state, and she wants to major in psychology but does not fit into any of the other exotic buckets. She's going to have a tough time getting into the most selective colleges. She may be in the most competitive demographic of all at this point in time, because the oversupply of high achieving white and Asian females is hard to overstate. It's a very tough group to be in right now. Again. Does that mean that you should shield your daughter from visiting those colleges? Considering those colleges aspiring to go to one of those colleges because you fear that she'll be crushed if she doesn't get in? I don't know.

[00:17:10] That's what I'm asking you to think about. If she's the type of girl who will roll with the punches and give it her best shot and not sweat the outcome, then by all means, go for it. But if getting rejected is going to ruin her world, then maybe you should think about it ahead of time. The other option is to manage her or any students expectations right from the get go. Before you step one foot on the campus, discuss the acceptance rates. Discuss some of the reasons that students get in or don't get in. Discuss the fact that there are often thousands of similarly qualified applicants who would thrive there but don't get in simply because there aren't enough beds. Don't make it seem like it's impossible and a waste of time, so why bother? But make sure that she understands the reality of how the system works. And of course, there are a lot of other demographic groups that this type of expectation managing should apply to not just white and Asian high performing girls. The list is long. So in summary, it's not a bad idea to visit college campuses to help your son or daughter familiarize themselves with different college environments. But don't do so recklessly, so to speak. Stop and think about how your child might fare at a particular college in the admissions process or otherwise, and adjust your schedule accordingly. And of course, do your best to manage the expectations along the way. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.

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