As you plan the general goals of your campus visits, plan the logistics, take the tour, listen to the information session, and investigate the campus surroundings, keep in mind these few tips for making the visit as productive, successful, and fun as possible.
Don’t ask too many questions, either in the information session or during the campus tour. Even if your kid is silent, try to restrain yourself. Silence does not indicate that your child is comatose. I can guarantee that even the most taciturn teen is taking it all in, trying to incorporate new ideas about their own future, some of which are really exciting, and some of which may be sort of terrifying. Don’t try to fill the silence by embarrassing or annoying your child. I can’t tell you how many tours I’ve taken on which students and their parents have traded eye-rolls, verbal jabs, elbows to the ribs. This is a stressful time for everyone, so don’t your parental instincts interfere with your child’s experience.
Do help your student to brainstorm the questions he or she has about this college and its campus before the visit starts. What information do you already know about this campus, and what questions remain? What things are important to see during the visit—facilities that may be important for your child? Encourage the student to ask the questions by helping to formulate the right questions in advance.
Do seek answers to your own parental questions. If you have particular questions about financial aid, for example, that remain unanswered in a general information session, you may want to call the financial aid office and seek their counsel. Similarly, if you want to learn more about a particular sports program, an academic offering, or more details about the curriculum, make sure that you check the college website thoroughly. Colleges have become pretty adept at putting tons and tons of information online. If you can’t find what you seek, by all means pick up the phone. Better, if it’s a question that you and your child share, encourage the student to do the communicating. Empower the student to take charge of gathering the information that will help him or her find the right college match.
Don’t even think about accompanying your student to the interview with the admissions officer. Just asking the question could be a red flag for admissions officers who really don’t want to have to deal with overbearing, bossy, and domineering parents. Assume that you are uninvited, and be surprised (and pleased) when the admissions officer engages you in some conversation before or after the interview. If such a conversation does take place, don’t talk about anything beyond pleasantries. The worst thing you can ask is, “what are my kid’s chances?” Not only will they not answer that question, but they may be a bit annoyed that you even ask it. So don’t.
Do take charge of the visit. Don’t be passive. Don’t let mom and dad do it all for you. Look at the maps and figure out where you are and where you’re doing. Take the lead as you wander around campus. Know what you want to learn during the visit, and know how you are going to learn it. At this stage of your transition from high school to college, every parent is a bundle of nerves, and they hate a power vacuum. When parents sense that their student is disengaged, they engage more forcefully. So don’t give them the chance. Do your homework, be involved in planning the visit, and take charge of the visit once underway.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a big decision, and you are going to make it based on information you have gathered. This is not the same as asking a question about a proof in geometry class or about mitosis in biology. This is about your future. Everyone (including your parents) knows that you have about a zillion questions rolling around in your brain during a college visit. So ask a few, especially those that you think that a tour guide or an admissions officer can ask. If you can’t figure out how to formulate your own questions, perhaps memorize one or two from this list.
Don’t be afraid to talk to other students on campus, and to ask them what they like about their school. In most cases, students on campus love their choice of college, and will be only too happy to share their thoughts with you. You can also ask them what they don’t like—for no place is nirvana. Usually they will readily tell you. Of course, the answers they give will be based on their own, personal experience of that campus, and cannot be said to represent the entire student body. But if you ask several students the same question or questions, you may find a patter that will help you confirm (or disconfirm) your own impressions.
Do focus on academic factors at least as much—if not more—than social, environmental, and geographical factors. Remember, you are choosing a school, not a vacation resort. You will spend a great deal of time in class, studying for exams, preparing lab reports, and writing papers. And you will spend a lot of time interacting (or not) with professors. So try to gather relevant information about the academic program. Tour guides will all say that “professors are accessible” and the “average class size is low.” Dig beneath those platitudes, especially when you talk to other students on campus. Are professor-student interactions limited to office hours? Do academic departments host activities open to all students? Do guest lecturers come to the campus, or is there not enough of a scholarly audience (or budget) to attract them? Do professors offer open lectures frequently about their research or other timely and interesting topics? How active are academic societies on campus? Do the honorary societies merely hand out certificates, or do they sponsor academic activities? How often do individual professors or departments host meals or other social events for students?
Campus visits contain some of the most important moments in the entire college selection and application process. You need to prepare. You need to be aware. And you need to know what things are important to you—and which are not. As with every other aspect of the college search process, the focus should be on you: your abilities, your preferences, your desires, your needs, your aspirations. The primary question in your mind should be, does this campus fit me?
The more you are able to keep yourself at the center of the visit, the more productive and helpful your campus visit will be.
Educational Consultant and Professional College Tour Taker
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