Visiting Colleges – A Parent’s Perspective

By Barb Vonnegut, Mother of 11th Grader

Visiting colleges with your teenager can be nerve-wracking.  Try to stay quiet and let the process evolve.  I worked in college admissions for 15 years and have been able to reassure most students (and parents) that they will be successful getting through the process.

Remember that there are a number of colleges where your child could be happy and do well.  A child’s college experience is more about the student than the college.

Try to visit a variety of colleges with different degrees of selectivity.  The goal is a well-balanced list of schools that include colleges in the mid-range or likely range for your child’s academic and personal profile.  Don’t just visit Ivy League schools on the first trip.  Explore a range of possibilities and keep your options open including looking at not only private but also local, state, and community colleges to get a good sense of what is out there.

Besides the obvious variables such as location, size, and programs of study consider other things such as: How current students feel about the academic programs, faculty, campus life and community?  Will the faculty be available to your child as an undergraduate?  What kinds of activities can your child see themselves getting involved in here?  What kinds of internships or research opportunities are there to take advantage of? What percentage of students live on campus?

Try to visit a few schools locally with your child to get a sense of what a campus visit is like. Have your child do some online research and start to make a list of the schools that he or she thinks will be a good fit.

Students should schedule a campus tour and a group information session for the schools they plan to visit (sometimes they get booked up in the summer and over holidays so plan ahead).  If anyone from their high school or someone else your family knows is attending the college, your child can contact them and ask about their experience.

During the visit to campus the Tour Guide and Admissions Staff are there to educate you all (and sell you) on their college.  Students and parents can ask questions on both the tour and during the group information session. Be inquisitive.

Pick up a copy of the student newspaper while you’re on campus. It usually offers an inside view of the issues students are facing and the college as a whole.

Look at Bulletin boards or signs to get a sense of activities or programs taking place on campus.

You could spend some time in the Student Center and on the quad which could be as simple as a nice lawn to read on or an open area to play frisbee.

Ask to see the college’s gym, the on-campus fields, and other sports facilities.  Check out the cafeteria.

Talking to students can be an important part of your campus visit. If school is in session, you can approach a few students in the cafeteria, the Student Center, or just while walking around campus. Most students will be happy to stop and chat for a few minutes.

Many kids I counseled dragged their heels and pretended high school would never end.  Eventually 99% of them came around to having to have a plan after high school whether that was applying to a higher educational institution or getting a job or considering a GAP year which is typically a year long break before starting college.

Some students aren’t ready for college.  Students who choose to take a gap year have time to mature and are often better prepared to take advantage of college courses and life.  During a gap year some students take courses in academic subject areas they are interested in, pursue volunteer opportunities or internships, travel, play sports, or get involved in cultural exchanges.  Many students who take a gap year perform better academically later in college as they take their education more seriously and have a better sense of direction.

There are as many ways to approach the college search process as there are individual students.  Ask lots of questions, remember to breathe.