College visits can be daunting and stressful, but with the right approach and preparation, they can offer the building blocks for deep connection and foundational memories for you and your family.
Here are a few tips to keep your college visits fun and intentional:
1. LIST WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW.
Have you ever gone into the grocery store without a list and come home with bags full of things you don’t need and missing the things you went for? That’s because when we’re under pressure or over-stimulated, our executive function can short out, leaving us prone to squander our time and make poor decisions.
The list is the thing that helps us make those decisions ahead of time while the pressure is off and the stimulants are low.
You can avoid that feeling of bombardment at a college campus by figuring out what information you’re looking for ahead of time. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about the colleges you’re investigating. So, sit down together and prepare a list. That doesn’t mean the list can’t change or that you can’t do something spontaneous in the moment, but you’re more likely to do those things with intention and focus if you’ve prepared ahead.
Here are just a few questions to help you get started with your list:
- How big is the campus? How big does the campus feel?
- Where would I live if I went to school here? Does it feel safe and clean?
- How’s the food? What other food options would I have on or off campus?
- What do I need access to while I’m at school and can I get to them from here?
- What are the students like? Do I think I could find a group to fit in with here?
- What are the staff like? Do they seem accessible and invested in me?
- Do they offer what I want to study? What will that degree program be like for me?
- Do they have the extracurricular activities I’m interested in?
2. TAKE A PRACTICE RUN.
Find a school within driving distance, even if it isn’t high on your list or on your list at all, and just go for it. With the pressure off, you’ll get a chance to explore together, talk through initial questions, and try out your list to see if you want to add or make changes before your bigger investment visits.
Here’s a “scavenger hunt” to break the ice:
- Talk to a random student or two.
If your student is shy, this is a great way to flex their social muscles in a space where they have nothing to lose knowing they’ll probably never see these students again. Ask them about school life, what they like and don’t like about the school, and what they do on the weekends.
- Eat at the cafeteria together.
Grab lunch together at the cafeteria and share the experience together. Notice what the environment is like, and if there are healthy, tasty options available.
- Attend a class.
Plan ahead with an admissions counselor to visit a class you find interesting. See for yourself what the classroom environment is like and for bonus points, introduce yourself to the professor afterwards.
- Explore the area.
Before you head home, make time to see what’s close by. Eat dinner at a restaurant someone at the school recommends. See what entertainment options are available. Does the environment change when the sun goes down?
3. TIME IT RIGHT.
Once you’re ready to plan your bigger investment visits (when flights and overnights are involved), be sure to choose the right time. Holiday breaks and vacations may seem like a convenient time to go, but may not give you a great idea of what it will be like when school is in session. You want to get a good, authentic sampling of what real life will be like on campus.
Plan these trips to include at least one or two weekdays including Monday through Thursday, and consider the weather if you’re visiting an area with extreme seasons.
You can start visiting campuses as early as Sophomore year to get acclimated to the process, allowing for the trips to get more serious and intentional in Junior and early Senior years.
We’ve gathered a whole lot more helpful information for you into this free downloadable PDF, Guide to College Visits:
Want even more personalized help? We have College Admission Experts ready to consult with you right away.