My Top Dos and Don’ts for College Tours
With the school year starting and some families having older sons and daughters reaching for college hopes and dreams, it’s time to get ready to have a smooth transition. After visiting several colleges, and receiving great advice from friends who’ve already walked this path, I’m sharing tips for college visits you won’t want to miss.
Why am I posting this? My favorite thing, besides good books and pretty places or jewelry, is to find resources and help families. With all we’ve survived and persevered through as wildfire survivors it has created a lens through which we approach everything that means a. time is very precious and b. we like to find the best way through a challenge – so sharing insights that come through that lens can be helpful.
AND, if you return next week or subscribe to the blog, you’ll see the one thing that surprised me the most…you’re never going to believe it’s true but, well, it is…
Each college is different, and we found some interesting points to consider.
DO make visits – your child will either take well to or resist large, small, or medium campus size, city or college-town locations, and weather conditions. Ideally, visit at least a few before their official college journey begins.
DON’T feel you have to visit all possible colleges prior to acceptance – this is way too expensive and confusing. We decided to visit a variety of campuses in-state and then went to one out-of-state area I was very familiar with so our son could see what a different region of the country would have to offer.
DO have an idea of possible majors – even if this changes, it’s helpful to encourage your son or daughter to have some focus in the sessions. Our son had one idea at the beginning of the tours, but after we’d seen about six of them, his major interests crystallized much more and we had great discussions along the way about what could work at each location with his unique skill set and interests.
DO realize times have changed – each school has EITHER a liberal arts approach or is major-based. Understand that each college approaches the education experience totally differently. For example, in California, many of the state schools require you to have a very firm idea of your major and assign you living quarters with others in that path, for an immersion experience. You have your major coursework first, then electives in the later years of college, hopefully related to the career path you’ve chosen. This works really well if you are 100% certain of your major, but if you want to change your path, it’s super hard and you may have to switch schools. If your child wants to take a couple years to try different topics before locking in their major, or might switch, there are still liberal arts schools (where you take more general classes the first two years whether or not you’re in a declared major) but you need to discern this at each campus you visit.
DON’T forget about special interests! Regardless of the campus, it’s nice to have an interest group to help personalize their college experience. My son loves music and plays in three different bands and orchestras. Even though he won’t be majoring in it, we’ve still brought up that interest and seen very different answers at each campus about the music communities. Some schools with elaborate music programs offer great opportunities for bands and symphonies, regardless of whether or not you’re in the music school. Others are limited to those who major or minor in music. Still others don’t offer it at all. Bring up your child’s other interests whether it’s the Greek system, student government, or certain topics.
DON’T expect to get a personal touch – most campuses, whether large or small, now have a 30 minute information presentation in a group format, followed by a walking or golf-cart tour. You also may need to make a separate tour for dorms or inside a particular school your student is interested in. You have to pursue that personal experience and see what each school offers – some have a meeting with an admissions counselor, and some do not even offer it until you’re accepted. Others will allow you to meet with an advisor or a smaller group of parents with the director of a specific school (medical, math, business, etc.).
MY NUMBER ONE TIP!!!! ONLY FOR YOU TODAY!!!
DO get creative with finding ways to make it personal – some tips below!!
+ Connect with student clubs – We toured in the spring and summer and used Facebook and Twitter to find clubs my son would be interested in. The students running them were happy to have lunch or dinner with us, and gave us lots of details about campus life. (I also recommend treating the students to the meal – they’re super appreciative!) Whether it’s politics or art, it will yield great results. We really felt like we had an objective point of comparison for all campuses where we contacted the heads of student groups. It was fun and encouraging to speak directly with current students. Also, stay with your son or daughter while they meet with them and use the long drives or flights to discuss what your child observed and share different points of view. This is probably my favorite tip of all as it really personalized our experience on each campus.
+ If you schedule extra time, some schools will be able to match you up with students who work there as tour guides or in the office for an informal quick conversation. We were able to meet band members, pre-law students, and other club members at two schools this way on the day we visited. They lasted about ten minutes in some cases, but really enriched the experience for my son who got to ask specific questions about the band and balancing homework with the commitment level, for example.
+ If you think of something while you’re traveling, don’t assume it’s too late to try to meet with a department head, advisor, or student leader. At some campuses, we had called the office and asked in advance. At others, everything happened with one or two day’s notice, and some were more dynamic, right on the spot, once my son had a more intense interest in a certain topic. They were very accommodating and it was so appreciated!
DON’T expect to run everything on memory – the information will begin to blur a bit after about five campus visits.
DO take lots of photos and keep notes on your phone per each campus. Take photos of their slide shows as often they will share exactly what they’re looking for in any kind of essays and share details about their statistics and priorities. It will help refresh your memory of your feelings, emotions, reactions, and points of interest at each location.
DON’T tune out the details of the group presentation. Watch for repeated words. For example, at one campus the word LEADERSHIP was on five of their slides. The advisor looked pointedly at each candidate in a very large room filled with about 100 students and parents, and said they wanted to see this in the essay. They were hinting that the essay held more weight than you might expect.
DO take college tours after PSAT scores are known and BEFORE your student’s SATs. It’s helpful to have them self-motivated to study and have a first-hand understanding from the school (not just Mom and Dad) how important these tests are in determining financial aid and admission policies. They will know how hard to work their junior year and it helps to know where you’re hoping to head.
DON’T forget to see if you have friends in the area you’re visiting or who have attended the school. One thing that was wonderful was connecting either on Facebook or in person with friends who’ve attended each school or live in the area we were visiting. It’s so helpful to ask in-depth questions from trusted resources, and makes the trips more fun if you can intersperse it with visiting with friends. Plus they will know all the current information about teachers, policies, and campus life.
DO wear appropriate clothes for the time of year and location. It was in the upper 90s when we visited Texas and we loved one school that gave us towels filled with ice at a rest stop or chilled water bottles so we could make the tour more pleasant. Other schools expected you to walk for over an hour in 100 degree weather without any refreshment, so bring your own insulated water bottle, hat, umbrella, etc.
Next week, I’ll post what surprised me the most about colleges we toured and the whole process. You can also subscribe and get it sent to your email.
Elizabeth Van Tassel writes compelling middle-grade fantasy and nonfiction with a theme of resilience. She brings her knowledge and expertise in the field of gemology to the page and infuses her love of folklore into modern adventures filled with mystery. A wildfire survivor, Elizabeth also understands the both power of loss and the power of hope. And she’s always on the hunt for a great story. Elizabeth currently resides in the Bay Area with her husband and two sons. She can be found wandering the gardens of Filoli House, enjoying her favorite coffee shops, and engaging with other writers.