With summer upon us, many families take road trips, and parents of high school students may think about including one or two campus visits along the way. This is a great idea – as long as you understand you cannot get a true sense of a college culture when you visit during the summer. The campus will feel completely different once it is swarming with students and professors during the semester. However, it’s still better to visit colleges during the summer than not to visit at all. If you live in the Northeast and can plan visits for late August, that’s ideal because many college campuses start in late August while high schools usually begin around Labor Day. By late August, most college campuses are in full swing.
Visiting colleges with my daughter Amanda was incredibly enjoyable because we made sure not to let it get stressful. Instead, we focused on learning the factors she wanted and did not want in a college and getting a sense of the feel of each school. As I wrote in my new book, Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter:
It may sound crazy, but I think that your first visits should include three colleges to which you do not think you will actually apply. Here’s why: if you are lucky enough to have visited colleges early in this process (maybe in 10th grade), your attitude and grades may shift a lot before you apply during your senior year. Don’t get caught up in the “name-brand schools;” visit schools to just learn as much as you can about what it means to attend college.
Many families traveling to Boston like to visit the magnificent Harvard Quad. And why not, it’s a world-renowned university in one of the best cities in the US to attend college. But the reality is that even if you have phenomenal grades and near-perfect scores, you will probably not get into Harvard. Also, keep in mind that Harvard does not count ‘demonstrating interest.’ This means that unlike many other private colleges in our country that track your interest (such as visiting) as a factor in admissions, Harvard does not. So while it may seem fun to visit this top-tier school, you should really want to focus on schools that you have a better chance of getting into. So if you must visit Harvard, please remember that there are about 80 colleges that combine to bring 250,000 college students to the Boston area. Find several other colleges in the vicinity that appeal to you while visiting the city and make the trip fun and enjoyable, and not stressful.
If you can find colleges early in this process that you love and think you can get into, that can be a game changer for your emotional well-being as you navigate high school. Amanda, co-author of Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter, said, “I can’t even explain to you how nice it was to be ecstatic about schools that I knew should accept me comfortably. From private, liberal arts schools to state schools and their honors programs, I had options that I loved and was excited about in tenth grade.”
Think of visiting colleges like window shopping, especially when you first begin. You are looking to evaluate what it is important to you. If you walk into a lecture auditorium that seats 1,000 students and you currently attend a small high school, that lecture hall may feel overwhelming to you. On the other hand, it may be exciting to have some anonymity if you felt a small classroom was too confining. There is no right or wrong way to feel about college. Your likes/interests may change over time, and this is 100% fine. There are about 4,000 colleges in America and dozens of them will meet your academic and social interests.
For initial visits, try to visit a city school, a rural school, a small private school and a big state school. This will give you an idea of the different options throughout the country. It’s often hard to find the time during the school year to visit colleges, but going when students and professors who are typically on campus is the best way to really understand the school’s culture. Depending on where you live, you can even start by driving locally to colleges near your home. If getting to campuses is too much, or if you are trying to watch your budget, go online; the virtual tour is a great resource to at least give you a sense of a college’s physical layout.
Editor’s Note: We are happy to welcome Jill as an occasional contributor to Admissions Intel. For more insights into the journey to college, we encourage you to Pre-order Jill’s book, which comes out on August 1, 2017.