Note: This post features an interview with Joy Denomme from College Trips and Tips, a fantastic resource for students and their families. Joy is on a mission to save college applicants time and lower their stress levels.
College visits are important because they provide plenty of clarity for potential students at any stage of their college search process. For example, these experiences will help you assess and evaluate the class size and the level of academic rigor at the school.
Done before college applications, visiting colleges can help shape or influence a student’s preferences, thereby streamlining research. During the college application process, the college visit can provide valuable information to the student that can help with the application itself, such as “why choose this college.” A college visit can help a student make their final decision.
College visits also give the entire family a common language when discussing colleges of interest. They’re also super fun and exciting, but the costs can seriously add up, depending on your travel plans and decisions, such as where you would stay during the trip.
You will find online tour packages on the websites of most colleges and via third parties, and they are helpful at the early stages of the research process – some are even free!
Let’s take an example of a 14-year-old tagging along for the college visit journey with their older sibling. Before the pressure of junior and senior year, that student can see colleges without any stress. They benefit from the knowledge of their older sibling’s experience and can hit the ground running junior year. This is because they know what they’re looking for.Whether a student is a younger sibling, an older sibling, or an only child, checking out colleges early is a great way to lower stress and get insights. To save money and manage stress, check out colleges nearby. Even if you are not interested in attending a local college, preferences around campus size, culture, campus structure, and more can be an excellent learning experience on any college campus.
Parents should hang back during campus tours and let the student take charge of college visit planning. Empower the student to research different landmarks, activities, restaurants, and things to do. The more a student participates in the planning stage, the more likely they’ll take the trip seriously.
Does the student spend a lot of time on their phone? Probably yes. Have them capture a lot of pictures and videos during these college trips. They can be creative and shared with friends, and equip them with the information to reflect on later when they’re processing their thoughts.
Hear more about the importance of college visits from the expert in college visits, Joy Denomme of College Trips and Tips. Rather than focusing on the brand name of the college, College Trips and Tips helps the entire family uniquely focus on the experience of trying a college for fit. There are many curated guides by location, with local insights and even a local planning timeline!
Like many parents, the college admissions process became real when my oldest son asked me one afternoon to help him make a college list and asked me, “When and where should we go on our first visit?”
It was overwhelming during the early phase because he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. So, I ended up planning a visit to Lehigh University to visit a family friend’s son. My husband strongly suggested I make the trip a little more worthwhile, but I had no idea what other colleges were nearby until I looked at a map and realized we’d be driving by Villanova on our way from the airport. Then, a friend told me Lafayette College was close by and Bucknell University was only 2 hours further. From there, we made a long weekend out of it, had a blast, and my son got to see 4 different schools.
I was determined to make our trip fun and stress-free - so I asked parents of college students where to stay, where to eat, and fun things to do if we had time to spare. That’s when I first had the idea to put together all the best recommendations and share them with others, which led to the inception of College Trips and Tips.
Our Pennsylvania college visit weekend was one of the best times we had together and the last time we had a solo trip together. I firmly believe if you spend a little time making the trips productive and having fun, the rest falls into place. This is because there are so many terrific colleges and universities in this country and many very cool places to visit.
Ideally, families should visit colleges in the presence of students. So, summer is not preferable. However, that’s when many families can travel, so the best time during the summer is the last two weeks of August before Labor Day. That’s when many college students are returning to campus, and the energy and activity lead to a much better and more insightful visitor experience.
Long and holiday weekends in the spring and fall are also good times. The same is true for high school vacation weeks. However, just be mindful of when the colleges have their spring break week!
1. Plan and see if you can find a current student from your hometown you can meet up with for coffee and ask questions. Most students love seeing someone from home and will share an open and transparent view of campus and student life, different from what you might hear on an official admissions tour.
2. Spend some time in the Student Center or campus dining hall, and watch and listen to students and faculty. You will learn a lot from observing how students interact with each other and with professors and staff.
3. Visit the area around campus and walk around the college town. You should try to visit spots that students frequent. This will be your home for four years and help you figure out what is important to you, such as proximity to a city, urban/suburban/rural, vibrant social or sports scene, etc.
4. Finally, always make a few notes about your impressions of the school after your visit!
It’s always better to talk to multiple students, preferably an existing upper-class student or a recent graduate who can provide a long-term perspective. A visit to the Office of Career Development is also helpful, given this office is critically important when students need help searching for internships, professional development, and figuring out life after college.
What advice would you give to families planning to visit colleges once their student has all of the acceptances in hand (or if they cannot visit)?
Try to research and plan your trip like you would when visiting any new place. Attend the accepted student’s day but also leave time to explore the college town or area around campus. Meet with a current student for coffee, lunch, or dinner and perhaps spend a few hours with them in their dorm or engage in an off-campus activity so you can get a sense of student life.
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