Don’t Pick a College Sight Unseen

On the road to visit college


 Give those visits with your kids as much attention as you would a major purchase because the cost of a college education today warrants a thoughtful, educated decision. 

As a parent of two kids who attended college, I learned a very valuable lesson: never pick a college sight unseen. The rules that apply to any major purchase are even more important when making the decision to invest thousands of dollars on a college education. You would never buy a car without test-driving it, or move into a home without taking a walk through and getting a home inspection. Based on my experience with both my kids, I can tell you that your teen should never accept admission to a college without getting a feel for the campus and campus life.

RELATED: College Visit Don’ts

My daughter had her heart set on attending a university in Boston. It was inexplicable to her father and me because she had never visited the city. But from the time she was a child she dreamed of going to college there. She worked hard in school and had the grades and the high school resume to assure her acceptance to just about any top-tiered college. She was indeed accepted to several colleges in the Boston area, receiving a full-ride scholarship to one of them. But, before signing on the dotted line, I suggested we plan a trip to all the schools, just to be sure she was happy with the college that offered her a 4-year scholarship. Needless to say, it’s a good thing we did. The minute we set foot on the campus she knew it was not for her. It was too small, there was no Greek life, and she did not seem to fit in with the student population. On the other hand, there was another college that had offered her a nice financial aid package and when she met with admissions, financial aid, and some students, felt completely at home. If she had opted to attend the university that gave her a full scholarship, she would have been home in a semester—there is no doubt in my mind. It was the college visit that sealed the deal and she spent four fabulous years in Boston, and two more as a graduate student.

My son attended college after a four-year tour of duty in the Marine Corps. He chose a university based on the recommendations of his fellow marines. He never set foot on the campus or took the time to speak with any of the students or faculty before showing up for his first day of class. He found out that the college that he thought would be “social” on the weekends was a graveyard. Most of the students were local and went home to their families. Most of the freshman class was straight out of high school. He did not have a connection with the students, professors or faculty and my son failed his first semester of college. He learned a valuable lesson and when he opted to re-enter college two years later, he chose a campus that was in a large city, with tons of activity, even on the weekends, and an older student population. He graduated magna cum laude; and it was the campus, the students and the professors that made all the difference.

RELATED: Focus on College Fit

The moral of this story is that you can’t choose a college without visiting the campus and getting to know the administration, the faculty and the student population. A positive college experience and the value of that degree are worth a trip and some fact gathering. Give those visits with your kids as much attention as you would a major purchase because the cost of a college education today warrants a thoughtful, educated decision. You can’t make the purchase without first sitting in the driver’s seat!


Suzanne Shaffer is founder of Parents Countdown to College Coach and developer of a unique toolkit to help  parents and students build inroads throughout the college admissions process. This and other great advice from parents can be found in the Parent-to-Parent category on this site.

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