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Campus Visits: When Plans to Visit Don’t Work

We’ve all heard its important to visit college campuses during the search process. I find it easier to learn about top programs, recent changes, and overall campus climate in person. In other words, my campus visits replace hours of reading a school’s website and trying to scour the internet to form an impression of a particular college.

But sometimes setting foot on a campus isn’t in the plans. Whether time, distance, finances, work or family demands keep you from taking an in-person tour, there are options when campus visits don’t work out.

Here’s what happen to me just last week. My daughter, a rising senior, and I had plans to look at a few schools in North Carolina. She had just finished a week-long psychology institute at one of the colleges on her list. The plan was to let her interview at the campus she had been at then drive to the second university where we would meet with her admissions counselor on Friday afternoon and take a tour on Saturday morning. Our plans did not work as expected.

During her interview at the first school, it began to pour rain. It was raining so hard that they canceled the walking tour of campus. (Messing up visit plans for all of those families.) I began to wonder if we’d make it to our next meeting; I hadn’t left a lot of extra time to get there and the drive would take an hour in good conditions. My daughter’s interview ran long and the weather slowed us down; we wouldn’t be able to meet the admissions counselor at the second university before they closed for the day. (Little did we know that that campus had lost power and everyone had been sent home early—more messed up plans for visitors.)

Over dinner my daughter received a text that all tours and visits for the next day had been canceled due to the rain and flash flood warnings around campus. So even our best plans to visit campus didn’t work out. Our flight home was later the next day and we wouldn’t be able to make another trip this fall.

There are things each of us can do to make up for not making an official campus visit:

Spend significant time with the college website.

Grab a notepad and look for information on

  • Admissions (standards, deadlines)
  • Campus life
  • Housing / food service
  • Academic resources
  • Core / required curriculum
  • Scholarships and financial aid
  • Your particular major or area of interest

Take a virtual tour (or self-guided tour.)

At a minimum you can see what the school looks like even if you don’t get the personalized commentary from a tour guide. I’ve seen some services that will sell you a virtual tour of campus, but you can look for free options first. YouTube is always a good place to start. Some college have significant footage online and you might be able to find a walking tour on the admissions website.

*Extra credit if you pay attention to the year and who made the video. Colleges are always making changes and you want a relatively up to date look from a relatively reliable source.

Check out the school’s videos on YouTube.

After (or while) you search for campus tour videos, check out what else the school has online. Pay attention to the activities and people. Are these the people and activities you want to surround yourself with for the next four years? Try to watch a mix of official and unofficial videos. Sometimes candid videos from current students and their parents give a more realistic view than the professionally edited promotional shots.

Review the college newspaper or news channel.

What issues are affecting students? What are the problems? The official campus tour won’t show you the problems, but campus news will include a variety of student complains from the everyday (tuition increases and food quality) to more serious (crime on campus, problems getting required courses, and equality issues.)

Seek opportunities to connect with admissions counselors off campus.

You might find them visiting your area or even your high school. You can call or email if you have questions. Admissions officers are accessible and want you to have the information you need to make a decision.

Start your campus visits early.

The more schools you visit, the better you will get at evaluating what is (and isn’t) unique. At the first three schools, students may be impressed with the Starbucks in the library or the state of the art fitness center. Even visiting local schools when a student is in 9th or 10th grade can help. Hopefully by 11th and 12th grade, students will be better at evaluating what is important. And if you can’t visit every school on your list, at least you will have a good picture in mind as you do your online research.

Our canceled campus visit was less of a disappointment because we had visited that college last summer. As my daughter and I took a drive around campus once the rain let up, she said, “Seeing all the buildings again is reminding me of the things we learned last year.” While I’m disappointed our plans didn’t work out, I’m glad we had other options for learning about the school.

Conclusion

Many students this fall will apply to schools they have never visited. That’s ok. You have many other resources to inform your decisions. However, before you make a deposit, visit the campus, preferably when school is in session and you can sit in on a class, speak with current students and professors, and get a feel for the social and academic life on campus. You wouldn’t purchase a car without taking a test drive; don’t make a deposit on a college you haven’t visited.

** One thing that really caught my daughter’s attention as we searched through that school’s website in our hotel room that night was the campus calendar of activities. She was impressed with the list of guest speakers, variety of creative performances, and opportunities. Even something as trivial as the calendar of events can give you insight into life at a particular school.

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Necessary college planning for current sophomores and juniors

Two weeks ago I was speaking with my daughter, a high school junior, and we were talking about college visits. She’s narrowing down her choices somewhat, but there are still a number of potential schools we have not visited.

I said, “We can see them over the summer.” Then I looked at the family calendar.

Between speech & debate tournaments, a mission trip, family vacation, a week at a psychology immersion camp, and a family reunion, we only had three weeks available. That’s three weeks to cover 6 schools across the state of Texas and 4 other colleges in Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

And that’s when I felt like the client instead of the professional.

I’ve seen so many families with good intentions (and plans) fall behind because they didn’t realize how little time they actually had for college visits, attempts at the SAT or ACT, or applications. Today’s article will outline some of the optional and necessary college planning for current sophomores and juniors. If you have a freshman, take notes because you will need to start planning soon.

 

 

College Planning

We’ve all seen plenty of college planning timelines. I’ve written articles on the subject. But it only becomes real when it is written on the family calendar.

It is easy to think, “We can do that over the summer.” Or, “She / he will have time for that next year; college is so far off.” But once we are in our routines for the school year or summer, it is easy for time to slip away.

Here are the college planning activities I would encourage you to pencil in for your family:

SAT / ACT

For Current Juniors:

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has already finished with testing. Congratulations! But many students are still preparing and working towards a score goal. Here are the remaining test dates:

            ACT

  • April 14, 2018
  • June 9, 2018
  • July 14, 2018
  • September 8, 2018
  • October 27, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)

   SAT

  • May 5, 2018
  • June 2, 2018
  • August 25, 2018
  • October 6, 2018
  • November 3, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)

Plan which test(s) you can take. Remember to watch for conflicts with AP Exam weeks (May 7-18), prom, final exams, vacation, and fall activities.

The sooner you finish testing, the sooner you can devote your full attention to the next step: applications.

For Current Sophomores:

You have the luxury of planning ahead right now. Next year when will you have the most time and interest to prepare? Try to avoid competition season for sports and activities. Consider the time demands of future Advanced Placement (AP) classes. (AP exams are always the first two weeks of May.)

Students who complete Algebra II as sophomores will have enough content knowledge to take the ACT or SAT in the fall. Students who are currently taking geometry and will take Algebra II in the fall may want to consider

  • Taking the ACT which does not include higher level Algebra II concepts and / or
  • Waiting until the spring to take these exams

Other than math, most students will not learn anything in school that will help on the ACT or SAT. So you don’t need to wait for spring in order to test. Many of my clients are done with testing. Some finished back in September and October when they earned top scores on these exams as juniors. The key is finding the time that is right for you.

Here are the test dates for next school year, so you can start planning. Keep in mind many students will take their choice of exam 2-3 times.

            ACT

  • September 8, 2018
  • October 27, 2018
  • December 8, 2018
  • February 9, 2019
  • April 13, 2019
  • June 8, 2019
  • July 13, 2019

            SAT

  • August 25, 2018
  • October 6, 2018
  • November 3, 2018
  • December 1, 2018
  • March 9, 2019
  • May 4, 2019
  • June 1, 2019

 

College Visits

It is not a requirement to visit every school on your list before you apply. But it is a good idea to visit a minimum of 3-5 colleges so you have a better idea of what different schools offer and how your interests may be met differently at specific schools.

There are so many variables when it comes to finding schools that are a good fit. I always say a college visit is like test driving a new car or trying on a new pair of shoes. You can read websites, compare rankings, talk to neighbors, and get the advice of experts. But when it comes to making a final decision, the only opinion or ranking that matters is yours.

I understand time and money are limiting factors in making college visits, but I also know the more informed you are, the better you can decide. Part of the evaluation process is where to apply, but the other part is where to attend. Notes made on trips during your junior year might save you a last-minute rushed visit in the spring of your senior year as you try to make your final selection.

Here has been our college visit approach:

  1. Summer before junior year—visit a variety of schools (big, small, urban, college town, etc.), take good notes, make a list of likes, don’t likes, and must haves.
  2. Junior year—continue adding possible colleges and removing some for not meeting criteria. (For example, my daughter likes liberal arts colleges, but has decided schools with fewer than 1500 students are just too small.)
  3. Junior year—visit more campuses. Take advantage of school holidays and breaks. Look for colleges you might be near as you take family trips.
  4. Summer before senior year—narrow your college list. I’m nervous when students have fewer than 5 schools on their lists and I know most students don’t have the time, energy (or money) to apply to more than 15. (They Dorsey list currently has 10 schools. That might increase or decrease by a couple between now and August.)
  5. Summer before senior year—make sure you have done official tours with a minimum of three of the colleges on your list. Visiting friends and relatives doesn’t count. You need the tour and information session from the admissions office to count it as a college visit.

As I found, it was easy to imaging we would have time to make all these college visits—until I started to pencil them in on my calendar. Most admissions offices let you schedule campus visit online, so you can do this at anytime.

Note: Many campuses are in a transition period right now, so don’t worry if you can’t schedule summer visits just yet. The national date to inform students of college admission in April 1. Seniors have until May 1 to inform the colleges of their decisions. Many schools are still focusing on this year’s seniors and will get summer visit schedules online soon.

Activities

Ideally students should be involved in meaningful activities throughout the year. But sometimes projects, community service, and hobbies get delayed during the school year. Summer is the ideal time to catch up.

This summer my daughter needs to finish her Girl Scout Gold Award and she has a goal of earning more service hours. She will also attend a week-long psychology institute at Wake Forest University. And we can’t forget all those hours working on speech & debate!

What are your summer plans? What else can you accomplish?

When students tell me they are just going to hang out for the summer, I remind them they will still have time for fun AND activities. And if you need a little convincing, take a look at some college applications and see how well you can fill in the “activities” section.

Applications

I will cover the topic of applications in greater depth in another article. What you need to plan for is some time, maybe a couple weeks, to draft a resume and start working on college essays. Summer is a great time to get started, but keep in mind, most colleges don’t open their online applications until August 1.

Conclusion

For those of us with juniors, that senior year will be here before we know it. It seems like high school just started and now the reality of college applications is here.

Take a little time to actually put testing, college visits, activities, and application work on your calendar, so you don’t accidently fall behind.

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5 Ways to Reduce College Costs

Yesterday I made a presentation for College Week Live: “How ACT & SAT Scores Can Lower Your Tuition Bill.” You can login and listen to the 40-minute presentation here. I give multiple examples showing how higher test scores can save you money and help earn scholarships. If you are looking for a little motivation to start (or continue) test prep, you might want to check it out.

Today I’m going to give you some other ideas to help save on tuition and/or pay college costs.

1. Select the right schools.

If you do only one thing to help manage your college bill, this is the one! Add colleges to your list based on the likelihood of receiving money.

If you have estimated what your family will pay each year (EFC) using a college net price calculator or the FAFSA4caster and know your out of pocket expenses for college will be very low due to financial need, you want to look for schools that are more likely to award aid in the form of grants or work study. In other words, you want to find colleges that are unlikely to meet a majority your need with student loans. You will also want to include schools that could meet your financial need with academic awards.

If you have estimated your out of pocket costs will be high, possibly resulting in no need for financial aid, you want to look for schools where merit aid or scholarships are likely. These tend to be schools where your grades and test scores fall into the above average category for admitted students. Because you would improve the academic profile of these schools, they are willing to offer scholarships to attract you and similarly qualified students to their campuses.

Keep in mind the scholarship aspect of selecting the right schools is based on supply and demand. Highly selective universities and those with recognizable and prestigious names don’t need to entice top students with scholarship money; these schools already have more potential students than they can admit. But a student who could get into Duke, NYU, or Brown could find a number of colleges, equally recognized in academic circles, that don’t have the household name status. Those schools are more likely to offer merit money.

2. Apply for scholarships.

(Yes, this seems obvious!) By the time students have prepared for and taken the ACT / SAT, put together a resume, researched schools, written essays, secured letters of recommendation, and finally sent all the college applications, most are simply too exhausted to apply for scholarships. But you can’t win if you don’t enter the game.

I’d encourage you to come up with a reasonable number of scholarships—either total applications sent or applications per month—and stay organized. Make your initial goal manageable, maybe 5 total applications. Take on more only when you have met your initial goal.

My students who have been most successful in applying for scholarships were persistent and organized. Be ready with a well-written resume. Repurpose essays whenever possible. Make sure you double-check everything and never miss a deadline.

With the same amount of time and some effort, students can “earn” more in scholarships than they would working a minimum wage job. (Of course, they could always do both!)

3. Work.

Work and save. Some students aren’t interested in applying for scholarships or they feel with lower grades it might not be worth their time, but everyone can work.

I’ve seen a lot of creative work options over the years. One of my neighbors set up a booming business as a high school freshman. She makes monograms, the kind you could put on your car, a tumbler, or a shirt. My Yeti is personalized thanks to her talents. She’s been able to save a lot of money for college– $5 to $10 dollars at a time.

Of course good old-fashioned babysitting, yard work, and summer jobs count too. The trick is to plan ahead and have a goal.

4. Earn credit through less expensive means.

You don’t have to give up on the four-year college experience and live at home to make this approach pay off.

Many high school students have the opportunity to earn college credits by taking dual enrollment courses through their high school or by doing well on Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

I was doing a little research on one of the colleges my daughter is considering. The cost of a single course at this private school is $4,167. A score of a 4 or 5 on the AP U.S. History exam would save us over $4,000. (Sure makes the AP exam fee of $94 look like a great deal!)

You can save 25% off the cost of your college education if you graduate in three years instead of four. Earning less expensive credits can make this happen.

5. Get free food and housing by working as a resident assistant.

Responsible college sophomores, juniors, and seniors can live on campus in a single room with a free meal plan if they work as resident advisors. Most of the job involves being open and approachable and serving as a contact point for the residents on your floor. Unless you have been assigned to “Animal House” the amount of money you save by getting a free room and meal plan will more than make up for the few hours a week you put in resolving roommate disputes and organizing activities.

 

Do you have other money-saving college ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

International Universities: Potential Cost Savings

The cost of college is always an issue. Even families with comfortable incomes and some savings worry about how they will afford a university education in today’s market where the typical four-year degree can cost $25K / year at a top state school or $60K / year at some private colleges.

International universities can offer potential cost saving alternatives. A couple years ago the Washington Post ran an article titled “7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free.)” You can read it here.

While the idea of studying in France, Germany, Sweden, or Brazil may seem appealing, not many families are ready to send their college freshman abroad to a country where he or she is not fluent in the language. (Even if the tuition savings is significant.)

But college degrees from schools in Canada and England present financial savings in countries with similar cultures and languages to what students would experience at home. I’ve presented some of these options in greater depth on recent editions of “The College Prep Podcast.”

Episode #110 – Universities in England

Listen here.

Listen in to find out more about:

  • how English Universities graduate students in 3 years—not 4,
  • why transparent entry requirements make admissions simple,
  • the type of students who will (and won’t) benefit from the English university system
  • how English Universities can boast 80% completion rates (hint: they have improved student support services!),
  • how to apply to these schools,
  • why you might save more money studying abroad, and
  • 5 schools you might want to consider.

Episode #147 Canadian Universities with Guest Whitney Laughlin

Listen here.

Listen in to find out more about:

  • Differences and similarities between the Canadian and American university systems
  • 8+ reasons benefits to choosing a Canadian university over an American one
  • 4 reasons why you might NOT want to consider a Canadian university
  • how to get scholarships in Canada
  • and more!

International universities can give students a distinctive college experience while saving families thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars per year.