How Important are Accepted-Student Days?

Question: My son has applied to nine colleges and was only able to visit three. He may not be able to attend many of the accepted students days (assuming he is accepted!) because of an unavoidable family trip. How important are the accepted student days in making a decision? What are the downsides of making a decision on a school without going to accepted students day? He can schedule an overnight visit earlier or later in April, as an alternative to the formal accepted students day. He has no clear favorites so the April visits will be important to his decision.

There are pros and cons to attending the accepted-student events, so your son will lose out in some ways but gain in others by not being able to take part.

One advantage of these events is that they would allow your son to eyeball a big batch of his potential classmates. Granted, it will be impossible for him to tell which ones will eventually enroll, so perhaps the gaggle of Goths (or lax bros) that most (or least) attracts him could be gone by September. These all-comers events are also usually well organized and rife with panels and other formal presentations that allow prospective students to get a helpful glimpse at a broad swath of the college experience (academics, athletics, clubs, etc.) in a short amount of time.

BUT … typically these events are SO well organized that the accepted seniors see mostly what the admission officials want them to see and may not have a chance to test-drive life as a “real” student at that school, just as looking at a store window display at holiday time may be far more enticing than what you’ll find on the racks beyond it. Also, with so many prospectives on campus, it can be hard for visitors to tell the “real” students from other guests. Lunch time conversations may be dominated by parents playing “Do you know?” across the table, and the hand-picked student hosts are apt to be “on” for 24 hours and are perhaps more likely to be their “salesman” selves than their genuine selves (although this can happen on any overnight visit, including a solo one).

The bottom line is that it’s fine that your son won’t visit on an admitted student day and perhaps even better than fine because it will give him the opportunity to explore in depth what he most wants to see (Library? Laboratories? Weight room? Bathroom?) and not what the college honchos think that he should see.

Happy hunting and good luck to your son on the verdicts ahead!