The Value of a Campus Visit By Kristina L. Dooley, M.A. As your child eagerly anticipates a break from school, it’s essential to consider the value of a campus visit before they dive into their junior or senior year. While some families may feel comfortable choosing a college without seeing it in person, it’s crucial to approach this decision with caution. Have you ever come across a university brochure showcasing homesick students enduring a New England winter storm, wearing inappropriate attire and settling for cereal dinners? Of course not. However, during campus visits, you may encounter scenarios that present a more realistic picture. Rene Scheske, Associate Director for Admissions Operations at Penn State University, emphasizes the significance of an on-campus visit. According to her, “Though you may develop an affinity for a school through their website or publications, the campus visit provides an opportunity to determine if the school truly aligns with your needs. It may surprise you and offer critical information to inform your decision.” The Art of Pre-Planning By this stage of their academic journey, your child has likely compiled a preliminary list of colleges with the guidance of their college counselor. Jim Abbuhl, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid at Hiram College, stresses the importance of pre-planning when it comes to college visits. “Families should discuss the visit before setting foot on any campus,” advises Abbuhl. “Establish the student and family’s requirements, considering factors such as size, facilities, student diversity, and campus location.” When scheduling visits, keep in mind that most schools offer set group tour times, typically accompanied by an information session or interview opportunity. As a result, you should allocate at least two to three hours per visit. Additionally, be aware that weekend visits are rarely available during the U.S. summer months. Laurel Brooks, Associate Director of Admission at Vassar College, warns against assuming that you can easily fit more than two college visits into a single day, even if the schools are in the same city or general area. Brooks advises, “Allow extra time for potential traffic, parking delays, meals, and visits to the bookstore.” Maximizing Opportunities While many schools may not require on-campus interviews, it is wise to take advantage of this opportunity when visiting campuses that offer them. Remember, interviews are a two-way street. Both you and your child likely have questions about what will undoubtedly be a significant investment for your family. When preparing questions for the information session or interview, focus on those aspects that cannot be found on the institution’s website. Your tour guide can also provide valuable insights, often offering a different perspective from the admission counselor. Brooks suggests, “If time is tight and you must choose between a tour and an information session, prioritize the tour. The information shared in the admissions session is readily available online or in brochures. Don’t miss the chance to explore the campus yourself.” During your visit, remember to bring a camera. Visual triggers, such as photographs, are more effective than written notes when you return home and need to differentiate between schools. Capture unique aspects of the campus, not just building exteriors. Here’s a tip: photograph flyers on billboards around campus to remind yourself of the social offerings available at the school. Staci Ambrose, Coordinator of International Admissions at Beloit College, advises students to envision themselves living and learning in the residence halls and classrooms of a particular campus. To achieve this, students should make the most of their visit by taking a campus tour, sitting in on a class, and, if possible, staying overnight with a student host. The Power of Follow-Up After your visit, it’s crucial for students to express gratitude to the individuals who assisted them during their time on campus, including tour guides, admission counselors, and faculty members. In this age of technology, it is appropriate to do this via email or a social networking site. Additionally, consider sending a Tweet or posting on the school’s Facebook wall about your experience. Not only does this help other students considering the same school, but it also fosters active communication channels with the university. Remember, the undergraduate college search process ideally occurs only once in your child’s life. Thoughtful planning and thorough campus visits will guide them towards selecting the most suitable institution for their future.