Believe it or not, it’s not too early to start planning your Spring Break college visits – By that time, some Seniors may even be making their second round of visits before the big decision. Juniors and Sophomores could be just starting to look at colleges to create a potential list of schools that they may be applying to in the future.
In either case, I know first hand how visiting any number of schools in a small time frame can be overwhelming and confusing. If you simply just take the tour of the college and move on, all the schools can start blending together. Trust me, your memory is probably not as good as you think after a few tours.
The good news? Going in with a plan can change all of this and make your college visits a breeze and you’ll have an easier time reflecting and reviewing the trip after.
Here are three steps before, during, and after your college visit to get the most of your trip
Before Your College Visit
◦ Sit down with your child (if you haven’t already) and have the discussion of what’s important for them in a college and what is not. I see too often parents and their kids not on the same page of what consists of their “perfect school” and it causes major communication problems.
The obvious ones are “what school size would be best?” and “Urban vs. Suburban vs. Rural campus?” but what about… “Do they have active clubs you want to be involved with?” Every school will tell you they have over 250 student clubs, but this by no means says anything about how many active clubs there are. Do a quick Google search to find whether there is any activity from the club online or an email address or the name and contact info of a student in charge. Shoot them a short email before your trip. I stress this to everyone going on a tour, the overwhelming majority of students are more than happy to talk to prospective students about their experiences. Do not feel afraid to reach out to them!
During Your College Visit
◦ The college tour Think of this as the Spark Notes for the school: It’s a lot of information, but it’s not the same as reading the book. And because there will be a lot of information to absorb, and quickly, take notes, writing down anything that can jog your memory later. Feel free to open up U Decide on your iPhone and add the school you’re visiting before your tour starts. This way as you learn any facts or stop by a dorm, you can give it a rating, and take a picture and write down any notes or facts your tour guide tells you.
◦ Do what your student will be doing every day: This is where it will be different for every student. Maybe sit in a class in a department they’re interested in. Do they like to study in the library or do they like a coffee shop better? Check out the study spaces on campus. And also try to find out if there’s a popular place students spend time off campus. Grab lunch on campus and dinner off campus. Remember this isn’t just where they’ll be attending school, for many students this is where they will be living for four years, so get a feel for the location and community.
◦ Get a personal tour: A new way to get a personal tour and a connection to a student like you at a college is a service called Campus Sherpa. This does come with a price tag, however, but it is a convenient way to get one-on-one access to a student with your interests and a chance to get an inside look at the what matters most to you in a college.
I mentioned this already, but I can’t stress this enough, please take notes! Write down what sticks out (for good and bad reasons), take pictures, and be descriptive. Really try to utilize our app or carry paper and pen!
After the College Visit
◦ This is the time to review and analyze. There’s a lot to think about while you’re at the college, but try to be present. Write down your thoughts and take pictures but also leave time to relax and enjoy your time there. the next day, or whenever you get home, sit down with your child and review your notes and talk about how it compares to other colleges. Check out the “good-fit” score it receives based on what matters to you and your ratings.
This can be a stressful and overwhelming time, but just follow these tips and try to appreciate the experience you and your child are sharing. Don’t let anxiety affect your impression of a school!
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Jesse Reichenstein is the founder of U Decide College, a company looking to build tools to help students find their best fit school by what matters to them. For more information email Jesse at [email protected]