By: NobleHour Special Contributor Dolly Duplantier
Believe it or not, your child is never too young for a college visit! It's true. Whether it's a walk through a local university during family vacations, taking the kids to your college reunion, or just spending a Saturday afternoon on the campus of your hometown school, it gives your kids an opportunity to start thinking about their education. However, as your children begin high school, it's definitely the time to get serious about planning college visits. In this three part series, we’ll provide some guidelines and tips to make the most of your student’s college visits. We’ll start with an expert – a mom.
Terri Stuckey is no stranger to college visits. With an Emory University graduate, a senior at the University of Virginia and a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, she’s as close to an expert as they come. Stuckey has visited at least 26 schools, some of them twice!
Don’t let those numbers overwhelm you. Not all visits require airfare, lodgings, or days away from school and work. One of the easiest places to start your journey is your local university. Even if your son or daughter is adamant about going away, it's a great place to begin. It doesn’t matter if they want to go to that particular school. Visiting different colleges lets students determine what they like and dislike. It’s just as important to take note of why they don’t want to go to a specific school.
These visits can be done on days off from school, after school or on a weekend. You can get a feel for the whole tour experience. This will help you gauge time for itineraries later if you decide to tour schools out-of-state.
In addition, attending local events on a college campus can give your son or daughter perspective and get them excited about the admission process. Catch a show put on by the theater department or cheer on the local team during a football game.
If you’ve already planned your vacation, find out if there’s a university near your destination. If you have the time, take a side-trip and schedule a tour. Have lunch or dinner on campus. Walk through and visit the bookstore or if you’re short on time, just drive through the university. Again, it’s a good starting point just to see what’s out there and to give them a point of comparison.
Just about every university my family visited was during a vacation. Road trips through the south brought us to the University of Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tulane, LSU, Loyola, Vanderbilt, and the University of Miami. My boys are two years apart. I made sure the younger one was paying attention. Even their sister, five years younger, has fond memories of our campus visits.
Stuckey also suggests enrolling your student in a weeklong, overnight, summer camp before going to the expense of scheduling out-of-state tours. Her kids did camps the summer after their sophomore year in high school. “It doesn’t have to be where they want to go to college, but it’s a great way to see if they want to go away for school.”
It doesn’t necessarily have to be an academic camp. The point is to give them the experience of being on their own away from home, family, and friends. It also provides them with the opportunity to live in a dorm. “Before you start looking at colleges all over the country, see if they can survive a week alone,” says Stuckey.
If they don’t enjoy the experience, then it helps narrow things down. It may not be worth it to visit universities more than a few hours away.
Many schools offer summer programs for high school students. It’s a great experience for the kids. Some offer guided tours as part of the camp, as well as meetings with admission and financial aid counselors. They may even offer college credit. Stuckey says being on campus gets them excited about going to school. “The kids also learn the vocabulary of admissions.”
It’s best to sign up as early as possible. Deadlines can be as early as March. Just search “college summer programs for high school students” and you’ll get a variety of listings. You can also check with your high school college counselors as they may have information about summer programs too.
Another option for visiting schools is to set up a group tour. Check with your high school to see if they offer any bus tours. Some may organize weeklong excursions visiting multiple schools within a specific region. “The kids see a variety of schools, but the parents aren’t with them,” says Stuckey. “The kids have fun, but they may not be looking at the things you, as a parent, want them to consider.”
There are also companies that coordinate tours of multiple universities in specific regions. This takes the hassle out of the planning and lets you concentrate on the school visits.
Stuckey adds that she never did more than four schools during one trip. “They start to blur in to each other and it’s hard to keep things straight.” She recommends taking lots of pictures, especially by specific landmarks and school signs so when you get back home they can help you remember the campus.
Virtual Tours and Social Media
Obviously, not everyone can afford the time or money to visit every school. Fortunately, the Internet and social media are great resources to learn about schools in the comfort of your own home. Every university has a website. Some offer virtual tours. You can also check out their Facebook page and mobile apps, as well as Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts. Students often post videos of school events, tours of dorms, etc., and many student groups and school clubs have their own Facebook page.
“If they cannot physically tour the school, then it is extremely important that they read all that they can from different sources about the school,” says Charles Basden, Jr., coordinator, special projects, for The George Washington University. “Many schools are developing virtual tours and online portals that seek to emulate the on campus tour feel. I would suggest creating a Google news alert for the schools they are interested in.”
In addition, Basden recommends reaching out to current students or faculty members through the directory or through student organizations to get a better sense of what campus life is about. Chatting with recent alumni can also provide a helpful perspective.
Photos by Dolly Duplantier and Terri Thibodeaux Stuckey
Next time - Part II - Scheduling College Tours? Begin with Basic Questions
Dolly Duplantier is a freelance writer, editor and social media specialist. She is the mother of three children, a college graduate, a college student, and a high school student. She is constantly learning from them and loves volunteering for their schools and sports teams. Writing about people and organizations who make a difference, including amazing teachers, is one the best aspects of her job!