October 2018 Update:
Let me just begin by saying “Wow, a lot can change in two years.” Since I originally wrote this article, we’ve moved from visiting colleges to interviewing for summer internships. Forget the “we” — he’s the one on the move. Not me. Not we.
The college visit turned out to be the most important factor in my son’s college decision-making process. In fact, after all the college visits were done, he decided not to apply to every school we visited, but only to his top three. He said he didn’t want to have to choose among more should he be offered admission to all of them. Everything about this can be overwhelming even to kids who are likely to get admitted where they apply.
What should you do as a parent? Watch, listen, and learn. Watch your student’s reaction during each campus visit. Listen to what he says or doesn’t say. And, learn now that college visits can be a lot of fun and that in just two short years, your student is facing the next chapter in their life.
Part 1: Beginning College Visits with My Son
After all these years about writing about how to plan campus visits, what to see and do, and all the questions students and parents should ask on college visits, I’m finally doing this with my son, a high school senior. I’ve learned quickly how the process has to be adapted to fit the student just a month into this process.
For example, prior to his senior year, we only visited a few colleges (two while in middle school and one during junior year). For years, my goal was to have him visit seven or eight colleges before his senior year. That way, he’d be exposed to a wide variety of colleges and have a strong sense of where to apply.
Life does not always go as planned. Family needs, work, and his own desire not to miss a day of high school [EVER!] impacted the window of opportunity for college visits. Also, his interest level did not peak until summer before senior year when his friends, who were a year ahead of him, were heading off to college. All of a sudden his interest in colleges grew. He’s definitely interested in visiting the colleges his friends chose.
Even though we’ve visited colleges in Florida and North Carolina, his radar seems honed in on four home-state Virginia publics. I’ve suggested that we visit private colleges in the same areas as the publics because “we’re going to be there anyway.” Thankfully, he’s open to this.
Why is it important to visit both public and private universities?
Because public and private colleges are different from one another. These differences range from class size and faculty-to-student ratio-to areas of study-to the campus culture and community. And, yes, price. Depending on where you live, endowments, scholarships, and many other factors, the cost of a private college education can be comparable to that of an in-state, public college. In other words, it’s worth exploring.
Surprises when registering for fall open house programs at colleges
If you read the Smart College Visit website, or subscribe to our newsletter, CampusChat, you know we advocate letting the student drive the college selection process. I had my son register for the fall open house programs at the colleges where he wanted to visit. During one registration, one form asked for “student type.” He needed to know whether he was a freshman or a non-degree seeking student. I realized he had just stepped into the Twilight Zone of college admissions vernacular. The language sounds and reads like English, but the words are foreign.
Why did he not instantly know his student type? Because he has not chosen a major. He’s currently “undecided” / unsure of which college major to choose. In his mind, if he’s not declaring a major, he won’t be on a degree path. He could be considered “non-degree seeking,” right? That was his logic. I assured him his student type is “freshman” but now I see about how easily a student could become confused about the college admission classification system. (And we have not even gotten to definitions for Early Decision, Early Action or Rolling Admission!)
September and October are going to be extremely busy months in our college visit lives. Each step and visit leads him closer to figuring out which college will be the best fit. And perhaps, closer to choosing a major. Looks like we’ll both be learning a lot on this journey.