Begin Your College Search Early

College Campuses

Do you really want to visit 3,000 colleges?

With almost 3,000 four year colleges in the United States it makes sense to begin your college search early.  We’re not suggesting you visit 3,000 colleges – but twenty or thirty might be a good idea.  So think about it.  If you wait until the middle of your junior year to start visiting colleges, and you want to visit twenty schools, how many visits would you have to do each month between January of your junior year and November of your senior year?  It can be done, but adding unnecessary stress to your search is something we try to avoid.

There are a lot of resources to help you develop a plan in a way that makes sense for the whole family.  The College Board web site is one good place to start.   And this advice from the Colleges That Change Lives is terrific!

How and when to begin?

The answer is actually any time you’re on the road.  For a vacation or a visit to Aunt Tillie, A few minutes of research will let you know which colleges are along your route or near your destination.  Before the student’s junior year a college visit can be casual with very little planning.  No need to stop in the admission office or schedule a tour.  Simply stop at the campus, find a parking space (this may be the biggest challenge of your visit) and take a walk as a family.  Stop in the cafeteria or snack bar, test out the food and sit near students.  Then, look and listen.  After a few minutes, take a deep breath and introduce yourself to a small group of students.  “Hi, we’re visiting the area and decided to stop and see the campus.  Do you have a few minutes?  Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and XYZ College?“   This works because students love to talk about “their” school.

This is about family conversations

There are many advantages to opening this family conversation early.

  • Students and their parents can compare their impressions more easily if the visit isn’t official.
  • The issue of affordability can be broached before a student falls in love with the most expensive school on the planet
  • Geographical considerations and campus size can be discussed in a non-judgmental way
  • Students will begin to understand some of the decisions they will make before or during college – career choices for instance

What to do when you get serious

By the time a student is a junior the things that are considered expand, and college visits change.   Students who have visited a variety of campuses and developed informed opinions about campus and class size, student life options and career goals will be able to target schools that they believe will be a good fit for them.   There are many ways to make the most out of these later visits.

  • See if you can arrange to stay overnight. Arrive on Saturday or Sunday and stay through most of the day on Monday (a better day than Friday for such a visit).
    • On Monday you can pre-arrange to visit a faculty member who teaches in a major you’re considering. If you can, do this yourself after reviewing the faculty list on the college’s web site.
    • Sit in on a class. This will allow you to decide if the teaching methods at the college fit your learning style. Are you a student who falls asleep in lectures but loves discussion-based classes?
    • Schedule your tour or admission office visit for later in the day. At that point you will have specific questions to ask about a campus you’ve grown to know.

Here’s a Tip

Always have at least one question that you can ask students, faculty, or staff.  One we like is:

If you had a million dollars to invest in this college, how would you spend it?

You may find that there are vastly different answers from each source, but each answer will provide you with insight that will help you better understand the school.




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