Preparing for College

College Visits for High School Juniors

As the first day of spring arrives, anxious high school seniors hold their breath and await the verdicts from the colleges to which they have applied. Sometimes the arrival of the mail (either the "snail" or "e" version) can be a traumatic experience. I recall when my son received his tiny envelope from his Early Action (first-choice) college in December. He had heard that "fat envelope = good" and "thin envelope = bad" (this was before email notification). He got a very small, thin envelope. Our hearts sank when we pulled it from the mailbox because his parents knew about the fat-small thing too.

Our son took the envelope into his bedroom when he arrived home from school and lingered a long while there. Of course Mom and Dad were going nuts waiting for his news. Eventually, he emerged from his room and simply said, "Well, I'm going!" Yippee! He had beaten the thin-envelope curse. The simple letter was headed with just one simple, bold word: "Yes!" So, he got in. But, he had to visit. And this is the topic which I'd like to discuss today, now that "Yes!" season is near. College visits: To trod the sod.


Seniors will have to visit the schools that have accepted them rather quickly, since in most cases the deadline to enroll is May 1. This can put some real pressure on families, especially in the area of money and family plans. High school juniors, however, have a much more leisurely scenario. Juniors can visit their candidate colleges over the summer or in the fall of their senior year. In any event, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Let's discuss some points for high school juniors.

For those of you parents with children who are about to enter their senior high school year, your summer plans should include visits to candidate colleges. The summer is a great time to do some investigation of where your kids might like to go to school.

All colleges offer summer tour programs. Because it's sometimes easier to combine visits with summer vacation plans, you may want to do so. If you already have vacation plans in place, see if you can make a detour to the campuses of some candidate schools. Who knows? Your vacation might be in the neighborhood of schools on the list.

If you haven't made vacation plans yet, you have the perfect opportunity to tailor a college-visit trip. A vacation such as this can be more enjoyable and entertaining than you might think. Many colleges are located in very picturesque areas featuring significant tourist attractions.

Consider the advantage of visiting schools over the summer. If your senior-to-be has a list of, say, five or six candidate schools, a summer visit might help him or her refine the list to three or four before the new school year begins. College campuses are always lovely during the summer. The only time when the they appear more beautiful is in October, when the leaves have changed to their autumn splendor. Summertime is a relaxed period because there are far fewer students on campus. There may be some construction going on, but that's normal for the time of year.

One concern parents often have about college visits is how to remember the unique aspects, advantages, and seeming shortfalls of all the colleges visited on a summer swing. One creative solution that was posted recently on the College Confidential's discussion forum provides an elegant solution. Go to each college's bookstore and buy a postcard that pictures the college being visited. Write all your (and your son's or daughter's) pertinent thoughts and questions on it and mail it home. When you return, you'll have a neat collection of all your thoughts posted to a memento of each college you visited. Very clever, and it works. You'll then recall what school had what program or special accommodations.

If your son or daughter can fine-tune his or her candidate list by the beginning of senior year, your plans can include follow-up visits to the finalist schools. Fall is the time to arrange for the overnight stay. Have your son or daughter contact the admissions offices and inquire about hosting programs. The overnighter should confirm any perceptions about a particular school.

As your child heads toward college, take the time to plan college visits. A small investment in time now can save significant time, money, and hassles during the college application period that's coming sooner than you think.

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.