By Judy Hevrdejs
College is on the horizon. And when you have three to five campuses you want to visit, how do you maximize those trips? Counselors say previsit preparation is important, from signing up for tours to coming up with questions. It also means assessing priorities.
“You need to think about what things are important to ‘my lifestyle’ and ‘college experience’ and check those out,” says Jim Jump, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Va. “If food is very important to you, you ought to eat on campus and get a sense of what the options are.”
A college tour gives you “a boilerplate presentation of the college,” says Lisa Sohmer, college counseling director at Garden School, a college prep school in Jackson Heights, N.Y. So your questions should be specific to what your priorities are.
Although Web site “visits” are helpful, schools’ subtle differences don’t always show up. “I’ve known kids who go to two schools that look very much alike on paper – size, location – and once (they) get there they really fall in love with one,” Jump says. “You can’t always identify what that is, but I feel it’s just as important as the rational sorting-out of information.”
OK, what about teens who do not want to be seen with their parents? “A great strategy is to break up once you’re on campus – parents go one place and the student does something else,” Jump says. That way both can ask questions without embarrassing the other party.
Finally, Sohmer says, visits are essential: “You don’t have to visit before you apply. But if you’re going to go to school someplace, you must visit before you give them your deposit.
“When you show up with your suitcases and your high school yearbook, it is not the moment to realize this is not the way you thought it was going to be.”
Make the most of campus visits
Some advice from counselors Lisa Sohmer and Jim Jump:
Talk: When your child hits you up for application fees, ask questions about the schools. You are entitled to that.
Chill: Don’t make all junior and senior year chats about college. “Kids feel like they have become an application in their parents’ eyes,” Sohmer says.
Ground rules: During your visits, ask your child if he minds if you ask the staff questions.
Ask, don’t tell: After the visit, ask your child open-ended questions to help her formulate well-rounded impressions.
Mix it up: Pick out many types of schools: urban, rural, large, small.
Parental aid: Parents are good resources for application questions, Sohmer says. For instance, when you have to list three strengths, get their opinion: “Your friends know you in a different way than your parents do.”
Go: “You should not enroll in a school that you have not been to,” says Sohmer.
Chill: Don’t fight with your parents in the admissions office. It makes you look bad. “Your parents have gone out of their way to drag you to a college,” Sohmer says. “The least you can do is be polite.”
Check: Does the town have what you need? How far away is it for visits home?