“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” -John Keats.
Hello families of Juniors! You are embarking on the single most important year of high school and if this is your first rodeo, you may not be psychologically prepared for the testing, the activity involvement, and the swap from Vermont ski trips, Caribbean cruises, visiting Grandma, sports training, traveling team tournaments to COLLEGE CAMPUS VISITS! It is a big year and can feel overwhelming.
The time is NOW to focus on college visits. We are finally getting past the COVID shut down and schools are stepping up with real, MASK TO MASK, tours and events. Plan campus tours for Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, winter or spring break, and Easter break, or Saturdays for nearby colleges. These are the best times to see schools with students on campus, enjoy the official tours and information sessions, and learn how to make a family vacation out of college tour season. Go to several schools close to home to simply begin to understand what college looks like these days! Find your FIT by VISITING.
Your high school junior may be starting to develop their “college list.” That college list will evolve over the next six to nine months, so it need not be—in fact, it shouldn’t be– “complete” before you begin campus visits. College visits will help your 11th Grader clarify what he or she wants in a college. Campus visits are the critical “reality check” that helps your son or daughter determine whether a college lives up to its reputation/expectations.
We find that many students and families start with a list of the “usual suspects” which are local schools, schools that are uber-popular among peers, and institutions with a national appeal that look great in the movies We caution you to not get stuck on that hamster wheel. There are over 4000 unique schools in the US and you need to do the research to match your family goals, academically, socially, geographically, and financially.
College visits are like a box of chocolate, you never really know what you are going to get! This happened to me while on a college tour with my friend Susan and her mom. We went to popular schools like UVA, NC State, University of South Carolina, Clemson and Wake Forest. But we also stopped at the “not so well known” schools like Furman, Highpoint, and Elon. At the time, Elon College was simply an answer on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle for “small college in the south’. I had never even heard of it. But it was on that beautiful campus, by the iconic fountain that I felt the unforgettable feeling of belonging. They had a business school, communications program, science, law, and fine art…the typical liberal arts education- and since I had no idea where I wanted to go (other than as far from home as possible with stringent budget limitations) or what I wanted to study, I knew in my CORE that this was MY college. Elon College was where I was going to spread my wings try all of the subjects, clubs, and activities. -right along with 3500 others.
Truth be told, I was also invited to a sorority party during my tour and that put meover the moon. I was SOLD!
Now Elon University is double the size, we have a gorgeous stadium, state-of-the-art communications programs, a law school, a widely recognized teaching program, double the students, a Greek court, major donors, and a new, badass female president. I am headed to homecoming in November and have never been more proud of my Fightin’ Christians- now Elon Phoenix. We are still an answer on Sunday New York Times Crossword; now we are the “most beautiful campus in the US.”
“My point is, don’t think you know what you don’t know.” -Lee Norwood
Junior year is busy. Your student is preparing for the SAT or ACT, maximizing junior year GPA, participating in extracurricular activities, learning to drive, and having a social life. All super important teen things. Why not wait until summer to visit colleges? Unfortunately, campus visits in the summer are missing one key element: students. It is ideal to visit during the school year because your teen can get realistic firsthand exposure to the campus atmosphere (e.g., Greek life, school spirit, academic climate, classroom experience, sports, or performing arts activities) and a real vibe of the place. Also, check out the restaurants, shopping, and the fringe around the school. How do you know where to go? Our friends at College Scoops have the inside info, curated by students and families just like yours. We even have a special discount code www.collegescoops.com ANNAPCC-z21.
In the “ghost-town” weeks of July, you can’t attend a basketball game, musical production, or freshman seminar. Teens need to measure potential “fit” by actually observing students in classes, eateries, bookstores, or hanging out on the green. Do students wear Birkenstocks or Lilly P. fashions? How diverse is the student body? Are students focused on academics, campus activities, urban entertainment, sports, partying, activism, business careers, or tech startups? Is the atmosphere eclectic, enthusiastic, isolated, or dead? Can your teen say, “I can picture myself here!” (or not?).
Don’t forget the weather! Upstate New York is lovely in summer, but what if your student is seasonal affective, and would become depressed during four months of subfreezing temperatures, grey skies, snow, and ice? Everyone loves Boston in the Fall! But a winter visit may change your mind completely about the location of the university. And Florida? If your daughter is worried about constant humidity, this southern zone may not be for her.
“We don’t apply until senior year, why the rush to visit now?”
There is so much to do to prepare to apply to college. It is quite a bit of work. Even if you do not have to officially decide until May of senior year, you should KNOW you want to attend the schools on your list because you have seen the real-life campuses. Most aha moments happen after the visit. Did the college meet your expectations? Was it as “perfect” as you thought since your visit with the admissions officer or after seeing the marketing videos? Once you get your boots on the ground, some schools will be crossed off immediately: in fact, he or she may dislike a campus setting so much vs. its reputation that he or she may not even want to get out of the car. This is a REAL THING- don’t wait until October of senior year. And don’t force them to get out if they have been enthusiastic about other schools on the list.
The more you research and visit with your student, the more their viewpoints and emotional reactions to campuses will evolve. What was once just “the next step” for them is now a reality. This is the next four years of their life and they have choices!
In addition to gaining an understanding of what type of university and what atmosphere makes your student tick, there are admission advantages, such as Early Decision and Early Action. We break down the types of applications in our article THE DATING GAME OF COLLEGE APPLICATION SEASON.
It is not necessary to visit every college on your imaginary list either; it is better to offer a few different schools (i.e., a large school vs. a small school, an urban school vs. a rural school with a traditional campus, a Northeast school vs. a Southeast school). And please avoid the whirlwind tour of elite “dream colleges” that your good friend, neighbor, or friend suggests. These highly selective colleges have often been called “highly rejective” and you MUST have a realistic view of where your child can get in, what you can afford, and what matters. Malcolm Gladwell does a great talk on this topic and we suggest ALL families watch.