Should I Visit All 22 Colleges on My List Before Applying?


I have 22 schools on my list right now and I am hoping to apply to 15. I told my mother that I'll decide which schools to cut from the list based on our tours. She said touring 22 schools is not smart and we can tour after I get accepted to schools. But isn't it important for us to tour before I apply?

As a mother myself, “The Dean" takes great pleasure in saying, “Your mom is right!" Well, she may not always be right, but this time I'm on her side. Although a campus visit can indeed be a helpful way to evaluate your target colleges and to craft a careful list, seeing 22 colleges is not only too time-consuming and expensive for most students and parents -- but, above all, it will probably lead to a serious case of TMI -- Too Much Information, that is.

A well-planned college visit usually includes an information session with an admissions staff member and a tour with a student guide. In some cases, an interview is available (and advisable) as well. Many folks also recommend sitting in on classes, but “The Dean" actually sees mixed value here. I do, however, recommend that prospective students spend time hanging out where the college students hang out (the campus center? The gym? The Pizza Palace in town?) and, in some cases, it's important to schedule meetings with coaches, with disability services coordinators and health professionals, or with faculty members (although that's not part of a typical visit). When possible, it's very worthwhile to cruise the area nearby, with the aim of locating everything from neighboring colleges to cafes, supermarkets and shopping malls, or the elementary school where you hope to volunteer.

But doing this nearly two dozen times could not only drain the family coffers but also ultimately raise more questions than are answered. Trust me, by the time you're on your sixth or seventh college tour, you'll be tired of hearing about all the caring, sharing professors who keep their office doors wide open or about the hundreds of exciting clubs that are available to you (or the chance to start your own if nary a one of those hundred meets your needs).

Instead, for now, pare down your list to your favorite 10 or 12 (and even fewer, if those visits aren't practical or affordable). Obviously, you'll want to group your schools by location (i.e., it's easier to see Bates and Bowdoin on the same trip than it is to visit Tulane and Tufts together), but also pay attention to “type." Are some of your top 22 large universities while others are liberal arts colleges? Are some of them smack in the middle of cities while others are in college towns ... or more like the middle of nowhere? As you plan your trip schedules, you should aim to include representatives of these different categories, and that should help you whittle down your list. For instance, once you decide that Penn State is way too huge (or too cold), you can probably cut Michigan and Wisconsin from the roster. If Middlebury feels too rural, say goodbye to Kenyon and Colby! And “type" also extends beyond size and location. If you adore the open curriculum at Brown, perhaps you need not see Columbia which takes pride in its venerable core requirements.

Also make sure that you consider admission risk when you map out your travels. It's far more important to visit “Match" and “Safe" colleges than it is your “Reach" schools. In fact, I often suggest that the first college that each students tours should be the favorite among the realistic or even sure-thing options. It's smart to see such places when you're fresh and enthusiastic, and it can take enormous pressure off of the whole crazy admissions process when you fall in love from the get-go with a place that is highly likely to say yes.

Although “The Dean" does understand your urge to see every college that that's on your current list, you'll ultimately get more out of each visit if you limit them. But do be aware that many colleges – whether they own up to this or not — will consider “demonstrated interest" when making admission decisions. So if you can't visit a place to which you've applied, it can be important to show your love in other ways. Definitely email your regional admissions rep (this is the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school. You can find the name on the college website or via a phone call to the admission office). Explain to your rep that you're excited about this school (and even name a couple specific reasons why -- reasons that don't apply to every college in the country) but your mom has restricted your visit until after you've received a decision. Meanwhile, be sure to attend programs in your area, if any (e.g., college fairs, meetings with admission staff at your school). Your regional rep can fill you in on what's scheduled.

Finally, as your mother has wisely recommended, when spring of senior year rolls around, if you haven't seen every college that admitted you and some of these turn out to be frontrunners once all of your verdicts are in, then you can take those trips to campus (and maybe even re-visit some places you've been to already). Although touring colleges before you apply is certainly valuable, it's those post-acceptance trips that truly allow you to envision where you most want to be in a few short months, as you realize that you aren't just window-shopping anymore but are about to make a potentially life-changing choice.


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