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Countdown to college: Last-minute tips for campus visits

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

Typically, what I’m saying to families at this time of the year is: “Load up your minivans and head for the airports and highways for the annual spring break campus visit blitz, but make it your own: Go above and beyond the standard tour.”

But of course, this year is totally different. Some campuses are providing tours and information sessions with reduced attendance (and reservations required) Many are still closed to visitors. If you’re planning on heading out, here are some last-minute tips to help you make the most of your travels.

— Allow extra time. Some campuses are so large that you may have a 10-minute walk from the parking garage to the admissions office. Allow enough time so that you arrive early enough to check in with the receptionist. When you first arrive, it makes sense to find out if and when a representative from the admissions office will be visiting your high school or city. Make note of that information because it will be important for you to follow up if the college or university is still on your list after the visit.

— Be respectful of other people’s time. If you arrive late, don’t take over the session and ask what was missed.

— Come open-minded. Do your best not to be swayed by what everybody else says about certain schools. When students and families return from a visit to North Carolina State University, I’m always tickled by their common reaction: “It wasn’t nearly as ugly as I expected, and everyone seemed so happy.”

— Be considerate of the other families visiting. Remember the basic stuff. Turn off your phone or other electronics, limit personal conversations amongst yourselves, and try not to focus the group’s attention on your particular student.


— Live in the moment. Take a few photos, but don’t try to record the entire Information session or the one-hour campus tour.

— Take good notes. I encourage everyone to write up their impressions. As a parent, you are likely to hear different things than your child heard. I also ask students to compile everyone’s notes into one document because six or eight months later it’s likely you will have forgotten why you liked or disliked a college so much.

— Don’t be condescending. Once you’ve done two or three campus visits, you’ll probably be able to deliver the campus tour pitch yourself, but remember that these are students who love their school and are trying to share valuable information.

— Wander the campus separately. After the information session and tour are over, walk around the campus on your own if you can. See if your child can have a one-on-one conversation with a student. Hopefully they’ll be able to articulate what they like most and least about their school.

— Let your kids go first. As you drive home or to the next campus visit, let your child share his or her impressions before you share yours.

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