Top 5 College Visit Mistakes

Rice University

Spring and summer are prefect times for college visits.  With a little planning you can take a couple hours to visit campuses while on vacation or while you travel to attend family graduations or weddings.  You don’t need to be a rising senior to start gathering information on what you like (and don’t like) in a school!

Here are the top 5 college visit mistakes I see families make:  (we’ll count them down –Letterman style!)

5.  Not Asking Questions

Talk to current students; ask what they like and dislike about the school. Question the admission counselors.  Don’t be afraid to speak up.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a senior who has already submitted an application, colleges WANT you to participate in your visit. You can also ask before you arrive.  Ask to meet with someone in your potential field of study.

If your travel plans don’t allow you to attend the regularly scheduled sessions ask what arrangements can be make for the time you can be on campus.  (I recently visited St. Louis University and an admissions counselor stayed an hour after the office closed to meet with me and answer questions.)

4.  Accepting All Information At Face Value

Understand that the job of the admission office is to help “sell” you on the merits of that school.  Often admission counselors are recent graduates of the university.  These are people who loved their experience enough to stick around.  But you don’t have to accept their enthusiasm without question.

If something is important to you, be willing to ask enough questions to get a solid answer. Study abroad is a great example – every school will tell you they have a program.  You may need to ask questions to get the big picture. Is the program run by the university or will you be handed over to an outside company?  Will you pay extra?  How much?  Are the credits guaranteed to transfer?  If so, can those credits be used to fulfill core requirements or courses in your major?  What percentage of students actually study abroad?  ASK!

3.  Thinking the Commonplace Is Impressive

I recommend families start visiting campuses early (9th grade) so by junior year students and parents can distinguish the unique from the commonplace.  You will find blue safety lights, inter-library loan, undergraduate “research opportunities”, study abroad, and campus coffee shops everywhere.  On you first visits you may be impressed by things that after three or four campus tours seem ordinary.  Arm yourself with experience and information.

2.  Skipping the Admissions Office Session / Tour

“We had cousin Taylor show us around.” “It was raining, so we just drove through the campus.” “I graduated from this university, so I can show the family around without a tour guide.”

These examples don’t count as campus visits!  These families could have gotten as much (or more) by touring the university’s web site.  There are two strong reasons to sign up and attend the official tours and sessions led by the admissions office:

  1. you get the latest updates and
  2. you make the school aware of your interest (which may be used as a factor in admissions!)

Universities are ever changing.  Programs are added, dropped, or changed.  Admissions requirements and deadlines may be different from what they were last year.  When you hear the official update from the admissions office, you get current information and highlights of what that school has to offer.

The second benefit to scheduling your visit with the admission office is that it counts as “demonstrated interest”, a factor some schools use when making admissions decisions.  Colleges recognize the time and effort you put into your campus visit.

1.  Not Visiting

I know; I know!  You are busy.  Visits cost money.  It’s hard to find the perfect time and it’s easy to put off.

But you wouldn’t buy a car you didn’t test drive. Why would you “buy” four years at a school you’ve never seen? No amount of research, reading, social media, or accounts from friends can take the place of walking around on campus and asking yourself, “Will I be comfortable and successful here?”

Go ahead and schedule your visit!  Don’t try to wait for the perfect time and don’t wait until senior year.


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