Summer is a popular time to take a college campus tour with family or friends to learn more about the student’s top choices. One of the first major decisions for a young person is selecting a college, and it shouldn’t be made solely on information such as the school’s reputation, a guidebook or a website. Seeing the campus and all it has to offer in person adds to the experiences needed to make a good choice.
Like the kids in the movie, not all teenagers will want to share this experience with their parents. My son insisted he visit colleges on his own, saying it was his decision, not his father’s or mine. My daughter, on the other hand, permitted me to tag along on half of her campus visits.
Whether students head out on their own or with their parents, here are some helpful tips to get the most out of the college campus visit:
Call ahead. Most colleges and universities prefer about two weeks’ notice to set up a tour. Arrange for a meeting with an admissions counselor, with a professor or advisor in the major the student plans to study, and if possible, meet with a student with the same major.
Visit while classes are in session. This can be difficult in the summer, but many schools have summer sessions. Observe how the faculty and students interact. Are the teachers engaging and interested in the students? Are students satisfied with their classes?
Give yourself enough time and take notes. One or two campuses a day is enough. It’s also a great idea for students to carry a note pad to write down comments, observations and questions to help them make a decision later. Visit important places on campus. Tour a couple of dorms. Eat lunch in a dining hall.
Visit the internship and job placement offices. Get a true feeling of how students live. A young woman I know was having a hard time convincing her parents that a university three states away was right for her. But one visit to the hands-on journalism school, a talk with the advisor and a journalism student from her home state convinced everyone that she had found the right school—even though it meant a more expensive plane ticket home.
Find out what services are offered to students. Nearly 4 in 10 2008 ACT-tested graduates indicated that they needed help deciding their educational and occupational plans. Ask what kind of advising or career counseling services the college offers. Many also said they need help with study skills. Does the college offer tutoring or courses to help with this?
Talk to everyone you meet on campus. Stop and talk to as many students as you can. If you go along on the tour, encourage your teenager to walk around on his own a little and ask questions he really wants answered without a parent around. Most college students will be more than willing to tell a prospective student why they love (or hate) their college.
Of course, not every family has the time or money to visit distant colleges. To help students narrow down their choices, there are things students can do from home to get an in-depth look at a campus:
Take a "Virtual Tour." KnowHow2GO-U has added a virtual section and allows visitors to take a guided or self-tour of a campus and its buildings. The website also offers college prep tips and games. Many colleges and universities now offer virtual tours of campus on their websites, including pictures or video. (Remember that the admissions offices design the tours, so they will not always show you a complete picture.)
E-mail a student or faculty member. Most admissions counselors would be happy to put prospective students in touch with a faculty member or students in their major. Don’t stop there. To get a true picture, contact someone independent of the admissions office. Look for names in an online version of the campus newspaper, or check out the web pages of student clubs or groups.
College road trips can be fun, and movies are an entertaining way to think about college visits – but they’re probably not as realistic as your own campus tour. If you can spend the time and money to do so, your road trip is a good way to determine your own college number one hit.
Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. For more college and career-planning information, visit www.act.org.