How your child can make the most of college visits

Planning to visit the colleges on your list? Learn what to do in advance to make the most of the experience. Our friend Alissa Scott from Parent Today recently reached out to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Albany and Hudson Valley Community College for some advice on making college visits effective.

Importance of college visits
The bottom line is all schools look great on paper – but not every school is a good fit for every student.

“You can look at websites, viewbooks and other online resources, but naturally, an institution puts its best foot forward in print and online,” said Tim Lee, UAlbany’s director of undergraduate admissions. “When you visit a campus, you’ll have that ‘A-ha!’ moment. You’ll see that wow factor.”

What to look for in a college
With so many options it can be difficult to decide which colleges you’ll spend your time visiting.

So it’s a good time to do some serious thinking, according to Hudson Valley Community College’s Communications and Marketing Specialist Teresa Farrell.

“I would say students should do some self-reflection on what kind of things they want out of their own college experience in an abstract and a concrete sense,” Farrell said. “That can mean everything from academics, campus life, sports and activities to a general feel of the types of experiences they want their college experience to include.”

Here are some things she said students should consider:
Does the college have the academic programs the student is interested in? How about internships and industry connections?
What are the faculty and staff like? Do professors seem to be available outside of class to help students who need it? How about opportunities for mentorship?
Do they have a good structure in place for transfer agreements/employment opportunities?
Financially, what is the range the family is willing to spend? How are they going to cover the cost? What kind of financial aid will the school offer? What is the student eligible for?
Does the college have clubs, activities or sports that the student is interested in?
Does the school offer support services such as academic, health and wellness that would be relevant to the student?

Questions to ask
If you’re visiting a college and participating in a campus tour, many of the basic questions will probably be answered. And, if you do some research beforehand, you can already familiarize yourself with things like the size of the school, majors offered, the types of clubs students can join.

“Spend your precious time on campus asking things you cannot find on a school’s website,” said Heather D. Hansen, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Ask students about their experiences. Stay away from questions like, ‘How is your engineering program?’ Do some research and be able to ask more specific, insightful questions while on campus.”

And do a little people-watching, Lee said.

“I always tell folks to go over to the school’s campus center, buy a cup of coffee and something light to eat and sit and observe,” he said. “You’ll notice the types of students that attend the institution and get an unfiltered look into the campus.”

“It’s also a good idea to check out the town/surrounding area,” Hansen added.

Other tips
Whether you’re visiting multiples schools in a weekend or several during a season, don’t rely on your memory.

“Take pictures with your smart phone,” Lee suggested. “Take notes if you’re attending a presentation. While you might be able to visualize some specific parts of your trip, it could get lost if you visit five colleges in a weekend. Record notes or take notes while you’re on campus.”
And if the sun isn’t shining, don’t fret.

“Don’t let weather deter a visit,” he said. “Everyone would love an 80-degree day with no clouds in the sky, but if it’s raining or snowing, you may not get the best sense of the campus. Keep an open mind.”

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