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What can be gained through college visits?

planner03planner03 Posts: 481Registered User Member
edited April 2013 in Parents Forum
My oldest is a sophomore and already suggesting we go on college visits. I know a lot of families do this as a "rite of passage" almost, but what can really be gained from these visits? What can really be gleaned from a walk around the campus with a peppy UG? I have read comments like, "we crossed that college off of the list because the guide seemed pompous...or boring...or had a pierced nose". That just seems crazy. As for sitting in on a class, how can one class with one professor possibly be relevant given the vast differences between any 2 give instructors? What would I even look for if we were to go on campus visits? What kinds of things did you discover that you couldn't have discovered on the internet? Thanks for the input.
Post edited by planner03 on
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Replies to: What can be gained through college visits?

  • nicedayniceday Posts: 2,498Registered User Senior Member
    I think visiting campus when the students are not on campus is largely a waste of time. On the other hand, eating lunch on campus on a regular school day has been a particularly instructive part of college visits for my kids. They see the spectrum of the student body engaged with one another. This allows a prospect not only to try the food (which varies widely from school to school), but also gives a view of any cliques (e.g., do sports teams or students of color sit as a group or mingle with others), how the students dress, whether they choose healthy foods, whether they seem happy and engaged or stressed or less social, and whether professors and staff eat in the dining halls alongside the students. It also can provide an understanding of the level of racial diversity and the gender balance.
  • ClassicRockerDadClassicRockerDad Posts: 4,308Registered User Senior Member
    We've gone through this with two kids and I will tell you that with the exception of giant public universities, we got very little out of campus visits made when students were not on campus. Furthermore, the schools we visited over the summer quickly dropped lower or off the list than the schools we visited during spring junior year and during senior year. However, for both kids, the unbelievably gorgeous University of Wisconsin-Madison which D1 saw during the summer after freshman year and D2 saw during graduation weekend last year, received applications from both kids when each only ended up applying to 5 schools. For D1 is was a rolling safety and she was admitted in October of senior year, and for D2 it was a serious contender, though she did prefer the smaller ED school she is going to.

    Though I couldn't be happier the way things worked out for D2, I can't help but wonder if the schools we visited during the summer between sophomore and junior years never got a second look, and given where she's going, they might have been serious contenders had they been looked at later in the process, after she figured out what really mattered to her.

    Nonetheless, had we not started early enough, D2 would have not been able to choose an ED school, and would not have had the time to figure out what mattered to her. Given her grades, ED probably really increased her chance of admissions. So in a very real sense, those early visits were valuable to get her to start imagining college in a way that she couldn't have done on the internet. Just realize that the first few schools you visit will be for the purpose of starting to think about college and will likely lose luster quickly after schools with actual students in them are seen. This really can't be helped.
  • lje62lje62 Posts: 3,592Registered User Senior Member
    You can get information the you don't necessarily get without seeing it for yourself. For instance, when one of my daughters was touring a school that was traditionally all girls but had recently accepted males students, she learned that some of the dorm bathrooms were co-ed. She wasn't comfortable with that at all. Another school was in a major city , but when we went to an open house event on a Friday we witnessed another thing. The school was a suitcase school and the dorms were emptying out with the exception of some students that were from other areas of the country. Also, seeing empty buildings and trying to imagine what they are like with students in them isn't particularly helpful. Seeing it while classes are in session can give you the feel for the student body and whether or not you might feel comfortable in the setting
  • wegotinwegotin Posts: 141Registered User Junior Member
    I agree with everything said here. Unless you are applying ED, and you are bound by contract to that school, I do not see the reason to go in this crazy 20 college tours in the hope to find the right fit. Most kids look at the landscape, dorms, how cute the opposite sex is but end but knowing very little about the majors they offer. Do not drive yourself crazy. I recommend you visit only the schools your kid has done ample research on and has all the things he is looking for and he is going to apply ED. The rest,he can apply EA or even RD. you will have plenty of time to check them out. Trust me. I've been counting the days of the last few month.
  • twogirlstwogirls Posts: 3,503Registered User Senior Member
    We found visiting schools to be quite helpful, and we will do it again with my younger one. My daughters friend did not visit any schools. She did the " virtual tours," chose a school, and is happy. For us, visiting schools without students present was not beneficial. We did that once.
  • siliconvalleymomsiliconvalleymom Posts: 3,683Registered User Senior Member
    I agree that school year visits are an important source of information. Our standard visit included the information session, tour, dropping by the undergraduate libraries and a meal. We learned the most from attending classes. At some schools, students were checked out on their Facebook pages during lecture. At others, students were actively engaged in asking and responding to questions during class.
    I wish we had visited a few schools during sophomore year. There's not that much free time during junior year, and the logistics can get tricky if the potential colleges are spread across the country. ClassicRockerDad is exactly right...the whole timeline is earlier for students considering early application options.
  • momofbostonmomofboston Posts: 895Registered User Member
    We too found visits very helpful and between my two kids we have seen about 30 schools. Each school has a vibe, a culture that cannot be experienced by virtual visits and for us that made the difference. There are so many schools with good academics but if a kid doesn't acclimate socially, the academic piece will suffer. Why go through all the effort and expense of applying if at the end of the day the student doesn't end up attending due to culture. D1 ended up at her #3 choice after she visited her #1 and #2 choice on the accepted student days. She had been to both the first time around but learned things during the accepted days that were not readily apparent the first time around. D2 is also going to end up at her original #3 choice because she learned during a recent visit that it was really a better fit all around for her than her #1 and #2 choice - both kids got into their original #1 and #2.
  • FlyMeToTheMoonFlyMeToTheMoon Posts: 1,720Registered User Senior Member
    School visits are imperative before making a final decision. The jury is still out about their validity before an application is submitted.
  • MizzBeeMizzBee Posts: 4,326Registered User Senior Member
    My DS is at a school that we visited during a summer science event that they held in the summer. He was able to talk to the students that were doing paid research during the summer in biology, chemistry, physics and psychology. It obviously made a mark.

    At this stage visits are also helpful to figure out school size, general location, etc. While school is in session (or if they are having a special summer tour) it can help to visit the nearby LACs, large state schools, medium size university. AT the very least they will start to identify what you don't want so you don't waste time and effort talking about your flagship school when they only want small colleges or dragging them to quaint LACs when they only want Big 10 schools full of raging basketball fans.
  • gouf78gouf78 Posts: 2,994Registered User Senior Member
    We had a great time on our college rounds. It was enlightening to me as well as my S. It was hard to visit when students were at all of them just because of vacation schedules but still a good experience. We did all the internet research on each school before visiting (and took it all with us) but it still didn't tell the full story. Visiting the schools helps with the questions , is this a traditional college town?, is it urban and spread out all over town?, stuck out in the middle of nowhere?, too small? a suitcase campus?
    Whatever you do...
    Be up front about the finances before visiting. Don't let your kid fall in love with somewhere that they can't afford to attend. And don't believe it when they say they meet full need. Flagship U could be the most attractive after they figure out there may be money left over for study abroad...
  • mitchklongmitchklong Posts: 680Registered User Member
    Be aware that colleges track all contact you have with them including visits. So for more selective schools it will help your chances if they know you are interested. Not going on a visit could be seen as a disadvantage for competitive admisions.
  • beth's mombeth's mom Posts: 2,415Registered User Senior Member
    My D was only interested in large state flagships. She visited 4 of them her junior year, all on days when her high school was off but the college was in session (MLK day, President's Day, Veteran's Day, etc). I think she found the schools were more alike than they were different. They all had beautiful campuses, they all had nice facilities, they all had a smorgasbord of academic offerings. She came away knowing that she'd be happy at any of them. One school, however, had much nicer dorms, and that's where she ended up. Although I'm not sure that was the best variable upon which to base a decision, she wouldn't have appreciated the difference in dormitories without a visit.
  • cromettecromette Posts: 2,614Registered User Senior Member
    I think it really depends on so much. What TYPE of college are you looking at, what's your major, what kind of tours are we talking about?

    One thing college visits do is to build enthusiasm about college!

    It depends on what's important to your kid. Some things that seem superficial to some, may be really important to others. For example: beautiful campus, great dorms, nice town, great football team with lots of school spirit, great greek life - it really just depends. All academic things being fairly equal, those kinds of things can really tip the scales. I agree with getting a short list first though. I wouldn't visit more than about 5, and you have plenty of time.

    D2 was down to two choices that were VERY similar. Prestige, distance from home, great things to offer, etc. A campus visit uncovered a staff in the music department that was much more welcoming in one than the other. Also, the students on the same campus stopped and talked to her coming out of choir and were so friendly and encouraging, and they seemed like family to each other. The campus was much more beautiful, the feel was better, overall.

    D3 thought she had made a decision for a regional college strong in Tech that had a lot of good co-op opportunities. Really nice staff and the dorms looked great. The negative we noticed was that it was DEFINITELY a commuter campus. These kids all went home on the weekend. ZERO life on Saturday. Lots of the dining options were closed and the only movement around campus were prospective students touring. She thought she wanted a small school. But then she visited one of the HUGE state flagships, and that was all she wrote. Better lab facilities, warmer staff, much more prestige, fantastic school spirit, tradition...she was completely sold. Had she not visited, she might have settled for the small commuter campus because of more merit aid. I think this is going to be MUCH better. More expensive, but much better!
  • SteveMASteveMA Posts: 6,079Registered User Senior Member
    We've done probably 40-50 visits of various kinds throughout the years. We have visited during the summer and during the school year. We have yet to visit a campus where there have not been students on campus. Most schools either have summer classes or students that stay on campus and work over the summer. In our opinion, neither is better or worse. I wouldn't consider NOT going on visits. The kids can get a feel for the size of the campus, the student body that attends the campus, general overall feel of the campus as well as what the staff/faculty is like. After 2 campus visit you will understand the importance of doing a visit. Largely they are the same, but some are just better than others and the process. For the latest round with our twins, the one campus, that on paper, was the best fit for both of them, we knew 5 minutes into the tour that is was NOT going to be the place for them. Another school that we added to the list last minute because we were in the area became a favorite for both of them. You just never know.

    Our kids have been pretty good at looking past tour guides that were not the best, etc. The best tour guide we had was at the school they dropped from their list mentioned above.
  • MarianMarian Posts: 9,384Registered User Senior Member
    I think visits have several purposes:

    1. To give the student a general idea of what colleges look like and how they're set up. We know this. Unless they have spent time on a college campus for some reason, they don't.

    2. To check out the general neighborhood where the college is located. This is especially important if the student is likely to live off-campus at some point.

    3. To get some sort of feel for the place. The feeling "I can see myself here" is important to many applicants.

    But this does not mean that you have to visit every college your child applies to before the acceptances come in. My daughter, for example, visited eight campuses, but she ended up applying to two colleges that she had not visited. Had she found herself in a situation where she was seriously considering one of those schools, she would have visited before making the decision.

    You may hear stories about kids choosing schools on the basis of the tour guide's clothing or other irrelevant trivia, but in fact many students can put the information obtained during a visit into appropriate perspective and recognize that it's just one part of the overall picture. Both of my kids did.

    Kid #1 preferred the University of Delaware over the University of Maryland based on his visit experiences, but in the end, he chose Maryland because it had a better program in his major. He had no regrets.

    Kid #2 fell in love with Columbia during her visit and had a miserable visit to Cornell, where the weather was horrible on the day she toured the campus. Nevertheless, in the end, she chose not to apply to Columbia because she had reservations about its core curriculum, and she applied ED to Cornell (and ended up going there). No regrets from her, either.
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