kitchen table math, the sequel: CollegeVisits

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I would like some advice about college visits. Do colleges like or expect to see rising juniors? Do they offer informal versus formal visits? What should I expect (or not) from a college. I would like to get started early and not wait until the spring or summer of his junior year. I think it will also get him thinking more about how important his junior year is.

What did you do with your kids? What worked and what didn't? I know that some plan trips and go to different parts of the country. It seems that this is best done in the summer, but you don't get to see the college in action, so to speak. What did you like about the visits and what didn't you like?

We were going to go to a couple of colleges last summer (not an official visit), and I contacted two professors directly because my son was interested in their work and background. Unfortunately, nothing worked out. One professor never showed up for the meeting (!) and we couldn't get to the other college.


Jo in OKC said...

My daughter visited one school (large public) in spring of her sophomore year. The college acted like that was pretty weird. Personally, I don't think it's too early.

Most places won't do overnights or interviews until the kids are seniors. Rules on sitting in on a class varies from school to school.

If you know the majors you're interested in, we've had good luck contacting departments and setting up a visit with the departmental advisor or a professor. It makes a world of difference in a visit to get to see the department facilities and get specific information (the college level stuff sounds the same after a while, plus much of it is on the web).

ChemProf said...

Admissions is set up to deal with seniors, or maybe juniors, so you may get a "this is weird" vibe. That said, my institution is running an admissions event specifically for sophomores and juniors this spring, so it isn't too weird.

You should be a little cautious of the vibe on campuses in the summer -- I had a friend in high school who initially rejected the school we both wound up attending because she visited over winter break and thought it was too quiet.

I think trips only make sense if there are several schools in an area your son wanted to check out.

And Jo in OKC is right -- after a while, the college tour information is going to sound really repetitive.

Debbie Stier said...

My son and I just visited 5 schools in Boston and Amherst over the Feb. break.

I found it incredibly helpful for a few reasons:

1) Where I could set him up in a class, I did so. He found that valuable.

2) I think the information talks are extremely important. I took lots of notes because you can hear what they value, and what they don't (i.e. first school said they're going SAT Optional), they tell you which programs are competitive to get into, which ones you can switch out of, etc.

3) The official tours are fine, but I almost feel like you could do that on your own. That said, we did see the inside of dorm rooms, which was interesting.

I wanted to see the libraries; my son wanted to see the gyms ;)

The vibe of the tour guide was very telling (I thought).

4) It gave me a very clear sense of what's important to my son. E.G. He LOVED Northeastern because of the Coop program. That's is IT for him. I had no idea how important that would be to him. He also loved Boston.

I LOVED Boston College. He liked it, but that Coop program at NorthEastern excited him much much more.

5) He was really excited to see U Mass because they have some new $50 million gym. Once we got there, there was no gym in the world that was going to help him like it. It was way to big and impersonal feeling for him.

6) We had A BLAST. It made everything I've been saying real, tangible, visceral, etc. Let's just say, he FINALLY started studying vocabulary when we got him.....2 years after I've been chasing him around trying to get him to do it.

Anonymous said...


One of the most valuable things I found is to look at a university and a residential LAC and see if your child immediately recognizes that one is what he is looking for and the other is not.

Then you can concentrate on the higher ed vision that fits. Also there is an ISSI book "Looking for the Right College?" that has proved helpful to parents across the political spectrum. Liberal at some campuses can be just this side of Mao worship and solid information on campus dynamics is helpful. Showing up at a big
name school and then discovering the bathrooms are coed would be a bit much for some kids.

SteveH said...

Thanks for the feedback. I like the idea of approaching a college department or professor. That's what we did before even though it never quite got done.

Debbie, isn't he a sophomore?

"My son and I just visited 5 schools in Boston and Amherst over the Feb. break."

One day per college? How long do the tours take? How much time should you allocate for each college?

We like Boston and of course the Back Bay area is very nice (for a city) with all of the colleges. In these economic times, Northeastern is really getting a lot of attention. My son likes NEC with Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall right near by. NEC also has dual degree programs with Tufts and Harvard, and BU has a connection with Tanglewood. That might be a good place to start.

"It made everything I've been saying real, tangible, visceral, etc. Let's just say, he FINALLY started studying vocabulary when we got him.....2 years after I've been chasing him around trying to get him to do it."

That'll do it for me. I might plan a trip during his April vacation. We are only a couple of hours away from Boston.

Debbie Stier said...

@SteveH He is a junior.

Thanks for that Northeastern added info. Very good to know.

I have a friend who's son had a GPA 3.65 (weighted) and scored 2200 on SATs and was offered major merit aid to Northeastern.

Re How much time -- you can def. squeeze two schools in. They usually have sessions back to back all day.

That said, by the end of the second tour in one day, I'd had enough. So one is comfortable. Two is possible.

IF they allow you to sign him up for a course, do it.

And Information sessions were more helpful than the tours -- though tours were good info too! but if you have to pick one because of timing, choose info session and walk around on your own.

Bring a notebook -- I got TONS of good info that I believe will be useful if he applies.

Jen said...

All good advice. Only thing I'd add is to be aware that they will like or dislike schools often seemingly instantly. Sometimes they will tell you why (best one I've heard from another parent was a daughter who got out of the car, looked at the first building they saw, said "It looks like Hogwarts, I'm not going here!" and they turned around and left, since it was several days into a college trip) or they will give you a reason they think you will approve of.

But honestly? They're just weird about it sometimes. Tiny little details become huge and will totally add or delete a school from their list.

Not really a big deal, there are enough schools to go around, but just be prepared!

ChemProf said...

One other thing to check out, even if you can't visit a class, is a large classroom. Ideally, check out the classrooms that first year classes happen in. You can get a good feel for the experience by the size of the classroom as well as its amenities (chalkboard, whiteboard, projectors, smart boards, etc.)

SteveH said...

"Only thing I'd add is to be aware that they will like or dislike schools often seemingly instantly."

Thanks Jen, I was afraid of that. I thought that it would be good to have my son study the schools online before going. He has to have a reason for looking at the school in the first place other than reputation.

Has anyone considered colleges outside of the US?

Anonymous said...

LOL. One of my daughters rejected Cornell because, being from the Midwest, she found the steep hills disorienting and even frightening!
But then she ended up at UW Madison, which has some pretty frightening hills itself.

Two more things to keep in mind: the more your child takes charge of the visiting process, the conversations with admissions and academic people, the choice of what to see and do, the better. It is very possible to "helicopter" way too much during this college search drama, but what you need is for your kid to own the process -- not you as a team even, but the kid. And that would be a reason to delay visits; a sophomore is not going to be able to manage this experience nearly as well as a junior or senior is.

Catherine Johnson said...

It looks like Hogwarts, I'm not going here!

I am cracking up!

Our whole thing is: we want Hogwarts!

We want it, and we wish we could afford it!

(btw, "Hogwarts" has been my nickname for Chris's Jesuit high school ---- )