Meghan Neville, an incoming senior at Hudson High School, visited three colleges in March and plans to see more this summer.
“It makes it easier to get a feel for the college and if it is to your liking,” Meghan says about the college visits. “It also gives you an idea of how much you’ll be walking, where you’d hang out with friends, etc., if you were to go to that specific college.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, her mom, Courtney Neville, says they can’t compare it to visiting schools pre-pandemic.
“Each school has its own policies regarding visits and tours,” she says. “Some are giving personal tours, some are not allowing any kind of tour, but that is changing rapidly as the state mandates change.”
For schools where they weren’t able to arrange a tour, Neville says they went on their own, took a virtual tour, attended a Zoom session, or arranged for a friend who attended a school to show them around.
“You miss out [by not] hearing the current students’ point of view,” Meghan says. “The (virtual tours) just don’t feel the same.”
While visiting a college might look different this year, it’s still an important part of the search process.
“College is a significant investment, so just as you would think of buying a house, visits are a way for you to check for both ‘cracks in the foundation’ and ‘the beautiful vista’ that isn’t obvious on their website photo carousel,” says Kristina Dooley, Certified Educational Planner, founder and president of Estrela Consulting in Hudson.
She adds that the formal visit can also be a way for the student to show a “demonstrated interest” to the school.
“It’s a category that many admission officers take into consideration when reviewing an application for admission,” she says.
Visiting schools takes planning. Dooley says the best time for families to take college trips is between the summer after the student’s sophomore year and summer before senior year.
“Families should take a look at their school year calendar and plan some short trips when students have some individual days off from school,” she says.
The timing can vary due to the family’s schedule. Summer visits might feel “less authentic” due to the fewer number of students on campus, according to Dooley.
“If you visit during the fall months, you are much more likely to see things happening as they would during a traditional year,” she says.
However, summer visits can allow more time on campus and to explore the surrounding neighborhoods, which during the school year, might be harder to squeeze in.
Meghan Neville liked the guided tours, because they were often given by a current student or faculty member.
“(They) gave great information, opinions, and facts about the college academics and social life,” she says, adding that visiting campuses made the college search more real.
“It is helping me make decisions on where to go to college, “ she says.
Dooley says to prepare for the visit, parents and teens should make a list of things they want to ask, see and do during their visits.
She also suggests that parents let their child drive the process, but plant some questions.
“While I want my students to be the ones asking questions during the campus visit, I know it’s important for parents to have their questions answered,” she says. “Don’t focus on questions that have easy-to-find answers, but rather ask about topics you can’t find on the website.”
Dooley says during the visit, pay attention to bulletin boards and check out what the flyers announce in terms of events, social activities, and campus accolades. Also, be sure to watch how students interact with each other and with faculty and staff.
“A tip for students: be sure to write a thank you note or email to anyone you meet on campus such as your guide, an admissions officer or faculty member,” Dooley says. “This small but meaningful gesture is important.”
With so many school options, it might take some time to find the right fit. Meghan Neville says students should look to visit a variety of college types such as rural, private, state, urban, etc., to get a feel of each one and which one they prefer.
“I would advise (students) to go with their gut feeling,” she says. “They should trust how they feel when they look into or go to a college, because oftentimes, the one you have the best feeling about may be the best one for you.”