PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 211 | How To Plan College Campus Visits

How to get the most out of your college campus visits.

In today's episode, I discuss the value of college campus visits.

  • When is the best (or worst) time to visit?
  • What should you expect?
  • Are there reasons not to visit a campus?
  • Is my child too young for a visit?
  • How to prepare for campus visits 
  • How to make the most of your time

If you're interested in using your travel time efficiently, please give this episode a listen.

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the Prep World Podcast. This week I want to discuss college campus visits. When should I go? How important are they, if at all? Will they help with admissions? I get a lot of questions from parents on this topic, so I thought I'd share some ideas and some insights with the larger prep community.

And with Spring Break just a few months away, many of you may be thinking about planning some campus visits and hopefully this will give you some food for thought. Let's start with why you should consider visiting different college campuses. You should visit college campuses if you want to raise your general familiarity and awareness about what the college scene is like these days, which is a smart idea for anyone who expects to invest 250 to maybe even $400,000 for a quote unquote college experience.

It's nice to know what you're getting yourself into as early as you can. By the way, this goes for the prospective student and the parents. Some parents haven't stepped foot on a college campus for a long time, so raising your awareness alone might be worth the trip in terms of when a trip might make sense. I would say that if you're an eighth grader or older, your level of awareness is probably high enough to justify making the trip.

In other words, if you're at least an eighth grader, you will likely remember enough of the experience to make it worthwhile. That's not to say that you won't ever have to make another trip to that school, but it should register with an eighth grader. A ninth grader, certainly a 10th, 11th and 12th grader, enough to justify the trip.

Of course, the older you are, the better because it will mean more to you the closer you get to making these decisions. You should consider visiting college campuses to develop an early sense of where you think you might be most comfortable. What kind of campus do you gravitate toward? Big, small, medium, urban, rural, suburban in the middle of a big bustling city or in the middle of nowhere.

Cold weather. Hot weather seasons. No seasons. It's not a bad idea to start developing what type of campus vibe you're looking for. Not that that's the most important factor, but it is a factor. You should consider visiting college if that college has always been a dream school for you, or at least what you think is your dream school.

Instead of just imagining how great this particular college's. You may as well give it a go. See what it's like in the real world. Kick the tires. Now, this is notwithstanding some of the cautions that I'll offer in a few minutes about being careful about what you consider your dream school. We'll touch on that in a few minutes.

If you're already traveling and you're going to be in the general vicinity of a college that sounds interesting to you or that's on your radar, you may as well give it a look. With our busy lives, it's probably not that often that we find ourselves with a lot of free time to explore different college campuses. So for efficiency sake alone, you may want to take advantage of your travel plans and do a little double dip.

You should consider visiting a college if you're willing to do more than just gaze around at the buildings and architecture and the grassy quad. You should study the school ahead of time. Have a plan. Come prepared with a to do list. What buildings do you want to see? What landmarks should you visit? Make sure you take photos. Take notes.

Engage with the students on campus. Make the most of your time. It may be the one and only time that you see it before having to make a pretty big decision. You should consider a college visit if you want to be well-equipped to create a realistic target list of colleges. When the time comes, because you've already experienced a few different types of campuses.

If you're trying to build a list of colleges to apply to from scratch with no frame of reference, it can be very disorienting. How do you begin to make a judgment about what the campus is like? If you've never been to a college campus? And yes, there are some very nice virtual tours these days that are available for many, if not most colleges.

But there's nothing quite like being there in person. You should definitely consider a college visit. If during your visit you can set up a meeting with a professor in your expected area of study or in what you expect to majoring. For example, let's say you were interested in finance. It would behoove you to reach out to a professor in the finance department whom you followed on social media.

Maybe you've read their book, you've watched their TEDx talk or admired their work in some capacity and sit down with them for a coffee and have a chat for 15 or 30 minutes at a minimum. This would give you better insights into what the faculty is like at the school, how the finance department and how the major works, and how your interests may fit or not fit into the school's greater mission.

At the other extreme, what if you really hit it off with the professor and begin to help him or her with their research? Maybe they offer you an internship over the summer, and maybe after proving yourself, they even submitted a letter to admissions advocating for your admissions. I've seen this happen many times. And wouldn't this give you great fodder to include in your supplemental essays about why you like the school so much?

Or in your interview about why you like the school so much? The benefits can be tremendous if you hit it just right. You should consider visiting a college if you can afford it. I'll address this in more depth when I go over my reasons not to visit a particular college. But suffice it to say, if money is no object and you can afford the college that you plan to visit, all the more reason to go.

You should consider visiting a college if you want some good content to use when writing a compelling Why us essay or a why us essay is a supplemental essay that most colleges make you write on your college application. For example, if you're applying to Villanova, one of the supplemental essays might be, quote, Why have you chosen to apply to Villanova?

That's what we call the Why us essay. Why have you chosen to apply to our school? The more specific you can be in this essay, the better. Obviously, if you've visited the campus and done some of the things that we've been discussing, then you may have a lot to share in this answer. If you've never been to the campus, it might be a little tougher to convince the admissions board that you indeed really love Villanova, for example.

Another reason to visit a campus is so that you can talk about the campus during your college interview. Most college interviews are conducted by alumni of the college you're applying to, and it's easier to make your case about why you're excited to go. If you've actually been to the campus and of course, the alums will often appreciate being able to reminisce about the different parts of the campus that you were able to visit and enjoy.

You should consider visiting a college campus if you can keep an open mind about the school. This goes both ways in terms of thinking that you'll love it or hate it. I would discourage you from bringing preconceived notions of whether you will like it or hate it. I know that's hard to do, but it will be who of you to suspend any preconceptions about the school during your visit.

If your friend tells you that everyone on campus is mean, don't make your entire visit about trying to confirm or deny whether your friend was right or wrong. Try to keep an open mind about what you're seeing, what you're hearing, what you're experiencing, and come to your own conclusion. You should consider visiting a college campus. Although I would say this is a low priority.

If the college happens to track demonstrated interest and by going to an admissions event on campus or to a scheduled campus tour, you may get a little checkmark in your data profile. That little checkmark might not do much, you know, by itself probably will have zero impact, but it might be better than no checkmark when it comes down to comparing you to somebody else who did have a checkmark.

And it's hard to know which colleges track these forms of demonstrated interest and to what degree you can pretty much rest assured that the Ivy Leagues don't do this type of detail tracking. You should definitely consider visiting a college if you are an athlete, especially if you're a potential recruited athlete and you want to meet the coach of the sport that you play, even if it's early and even if you're not on their radar yet.

I remember when my sons and I visited the Naval Academy. My third son was in eighth grade and he had just started playing water polo that season. He told me that he would definitely consider playing water polo at the Naval Academy if he ever got good enough. So when we visited the Naval Academy campus with his two older brothers, I made it a point to seek out the water polo coach to introduce him to my eighth grade novice water polo playing son.

They had a great chat. My son was very excited. It really left a mark with him. He liked what he was hearing and lo and behold, they kept in touch for a few years. My son became a national level water polo player and decided to attend the Naval Academy. So make these connections when they make sense. And lastly, you should consider visiting a college campus, especially if you can go when school is in session.

It's always better to go when things are happening on campus versus summer break when sometimes these campuses can be ghost towns. It's more fun, it's more representative, and you'll get a better sense of what life is actually like if you can visit the school when school is in session. Now let's shift gears and discuss why you may not want to visit a campus.

You may not want to spend the time, money or energy visiting college campuses. If your child is younger than eighth grade. As we talked about earlier. Unless, of course, they are just tagging along with an older sibling, in which case, obviously it's fine, no harm, no foul. But when you're visiting a school for the express purpose of research and checking out a campus for real, I would recommend eighth grade and above.

I would not visit a college campus specifically because you think it will explicitly help your child in the admissions process. That's probably not going to happen if the visit is combined with a meet up with a college professor or a coach, as we discussed. Then maybe these things turn into an admissions bump. But these are the exceptions versus the rule.

Merely showing up on campus will not register with admissions. Even those who track those types of things, it's not a bad idea. But don't do it because you think your presence alone will register well in admissions. It won't take an active role in your visit and use your experience to better pitch yourself in your application. I would not visit a campus if going to that campus will lock you in so much that from that day forward you don't consider any other schools, especially if that school happens to have single digit acceptance rates.

For example, I would be careful about visiting Princeton in mid-September on a nice balmy day when the leaves are changing because you may become so smitten with the campus alone that you get to fixated on Princeton and it becomes the only school you will even consider. That is certainly not healthy, especially when the acceptance rate at a school like that is in the low single digits 3%.

Maybe if you really want to tour Princeton, I would hold off until you have established a robust body of work that might put you in the running for that type of school. Meaning and SAT score, GPA, AP scores, superhuman extracurriculars, athletic skill, minority status, D-I, high status, something that might give you a shot of getting in. If you never get to that point, why get infatuated too early for no reason And just lead yourself to disappointment?

I would not visit a college campus. If you're going to think that your one day on campus is representative of every single day on campus. For example, if you go to the University of Texas on a day where there's a home football game and there's tailgates and there's 24 hour partying and complete chaos in the streets, I would not want you to think that this is representative of what every single day is like at University of Texas.

Make sure you bring some perspective to your visit. I would caution against visiting a college campus if it's in the middle of July in the south and the campus is empty. As we discussed briefly, it's not the worst thing in the world. I've done it, but it's not ideal. The empty campus and the extreme summer climate may give you a warped and unfair perception of what the school is all about.

I would hesitate from visiting a college campus if a bad weather day will sour your opinion of the school forever. I've seen it happen many times. You have a campus visit scheduled for what you believe is your perfect college. It's in the right part of the country, the perfect size, its affordable, the right selectivity. It has your major program.

It's the right type of housing arrangements. But you go on a day when it's raining or sleeting or freezing, and the whole day all of a sudden takes on a dark tone. Nobody is out and about. The campus has low energy and you get a bad taste in your mouth. That's sometimes hard to shake. You don't want this to happen for a college, that actually could be a really good fit.

And lastly, I would not visit a campus that you know for sure is way too expensive now. You need to be smart about this because sticker price doesn't always reflect reality. You don't want to toss out a school just because you perceive it to be so expensive based on what your neighbor said or some online forum or your Facebook friends.

Because remember, depending on your financial situation, a high priced college with generous need based financial aid may actually be far less expensive than a relatively lower priced state school with no need based financial aid. For example, a private liberal arts college with a generous need based financial aid policy with a sticker price of $90,000 a year may actually only cost you $5,000 a year with financial aid compared to the state school that advertises $45,000 a year but offers no need based financial aid.

And by the way, it might take six years to graduate from a school like that. So be careful about going by optics alone and by sticker price alone. If your parents will not qualify for significant need based financial aid and or the school doesn't offer significant need based financial aid and there's no merit aid to be found. As is the case with most top 20 or 30 schools, and you don't want to be tempted to take a $200,000 school loan out if you happen to get into the school that you're considering, then don't bother visiting.

If the school costs $100,000 a year and the only way that you can afford it is with school loans. And you don't want to get into that type of financial hole. Then don't visit. Don't open up the can of worms. This situation leads to a lot of heartache. When students visit a particular school, they fall in love with it.

They have no idea what it costs. And then two years later, after suffering through the admissions process and getting into that dream school, the parents have to break them the news that it's completely unaffordable and that they can't go. That's a tough pill to swallow. Well, I hope these ideas have given you some food for thought as you think about whether to schedule some college visits during this spring break or otherwise.

If you do end up going, make sure you prepare ahead of time to make the most of it. That's all I 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.

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