This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.
Recently a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community with a child in eighth grade asked if it was too early to begin college tours. She felt that it would allow her child to learn many things about college life and asked other parents if they had any advice that would help prepare her child for the future.
The answers ranged from “It’s way too early” to “Why not?” and everything in between. Here’s a summary of some of the top responses with tips from other parents.
It’s OK to Start College Visits Early
“Starting college tours well before the actual application process begins keeps kids motivated during high school, and it might give them insight as to what type of college they want to go to and what level of academic achievement they may be interested in. For example, seeing that colleges are proud of a particular department may foster interest in something that they had never thought about. Also, it’s a fun parent-child activity. Just don’t do it so much that you get burnt out. You have tons of time to get more specific [about grants] and other things later. That’s the beauty of starting early.” — Meaghan M.
“Visiting now normalizes the idea of going to college. My child attended a college tour and admission presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while in sixth grade. He also did some weeks-long summer camps on college campuses where he was living in dorms, taking classes in different subjects, and participating in activities. These were great experiences, but colleges are great places to visit overall. I worked at a university and they have libraries, student unions, bookstores, and even art museums. Some do cool science lectures for kids on age-appropriate topics, too.” — Jackie B.
“We are visiting colleges with our ninth grader now. With each visit, we learn more (and he does as well). We are enjoying this time together. There are so many great choices!” — Holly S.
“Last year I attended a great talk by a local high school guidance counselor for first-generation college students who happened to have been a first-generation college student himself. He told us that he started taking his daughter on college tours when she was 5 — not because he was trying to get her to pick a dream college or stress her out about college. He wanted to set the expectation that college was something she was capable of doing. It also gives her a chance to learn what types of questions to ask and how to compare answers across schools so that she is ready to take these steps herself when the time comes. I thought it was a brilliant idea.” — Cecelia B.
It’s Best to Say No to College Visits — For Now
“It’s my opinion that schools push too hard and too early for college decisions about majors and other things. Let your child enjoy high school while they figure out what interests they have. Instead, my advice is to save money — a lot of money. Grants and scholarships are few and far between unless you qualify for need-based aid. Right now, your focus should be on saving for college, not spending money visiting a bunch of colleges that likely won’t end up in your child’s college list. “ — Lola M.
“Your child is going to be a completely different person by their junior year of high school. Visiting colleges now is pointless. Let them just be a kid. You can start your research online, but there’s no need to involve your child yet.” — Marci B.
“Normalizing the idea of going to college is good, but there’s no need to visit or tour at this age. Some schools don’t even allow you to sign up [for a visit] until sophomore year.” — Cindy Y.
“It’s way too early for college visits. They’re going to be burnt out on college stuff before sophomore year.” — Julie P.
“I’m a college counselor and this is too early to take tours unless you happen to be on vacation and won’t likely be back in the area.” — Jennifer K.
Other Things Younger Students Can Do To Prep For College
“Consider a week of summer camp on a college campus or attend a college sporting event to provide a glimpse of college life.” — Mary Ann I.
“Your high school guidance counselor should explain your school’s GPA scale and how it works with honors, Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, and International Baccalaureate classes. Each school is individualistic in how they weigh those classes. However, many colleges recalculate and look at weighted and unweighted GPAs.” — Diane L.
“[If you visit colleges], be very critical of any facts and figures you hear. Check the Common Data Set of each school to get the full picture or ask probing questions as these numbers are not always what they seem. For example, student loans are considered financial aid.” — Karina B
“I think I would concentrate on saving money and planning a great high school experience for now. Get them excited for high school, including what extracurriculars they might be interested in. If you go on college tours with an eighth grader, it will mean next to nothing and he will get sick of it. We started doing college tours the second semester of junior year.” — Lisa F.
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