My friends with Juniors / 11th graders have asked me as to when we would start our college visits. Start? We’ve been doing those for years.
We actually started college visits years and years ago. For instance when we visited Williamsburg seven years ago we walked the grounds of William & Mary. While our kids were in elementary school we walked college campuses whenever we found ourselves in a town with a college. We have the viewpoint that the question was not whether or not to go to college but which college will you attend? Having this viewpoint we wanted to provide our boys with ample opportunities to see what colleges look like. Sure this wasn’t a serious look but it was exposure to what a college looked like and turned the word ‘college’ into a tangible structure. Before Junior year the boys had easily walked at least two dozen college campusses.
This exploration was all moved up a notch in tenth grade when we visited two college fairs. It was overwhelming for me to say the least. The one was in the Philadelphia Convention Center, sponsored by NACAC
and the other at a local college. Both fairs had over 100 colleges attending, pushing their college features and wanting to talk seniors. not 10th graders. Attending a college fair senior year was a bit more productive however DS became familiar with college names in 10th grade so I don’t feel it was a a total waste of time. Oh, and DS was totally disinterested in attending either college fair but we went anyways.
Junior year we visited a few colleges in the fall and another half-dozen in the spring. Prior to each tour I visited the college’s website, learned when their tours were being held, registered if it was required, wrote down directions and most importantly looked for any special programs they might have upcoming. For instance when I looked at Lehigh University I spotted specialty engineering tours. Sure enough in the list was one geared to biochemical engineering. Quickly I registered DS and put it on our calendar. I’ve heard that girls will just do all this exploring and scheduling themselves but part of me doesn’t believe it. I question the source and since this is OUR experience, and what WE did I don’t want to steer you wrong. I did the exploring of college campus websites throughout DS’ Junior year. He was just not interested but on the tours he definitely paid attention, asked questions and took mental notes.
I found that any questions I had were easily answered by the administration person after her/his talk to the group. I know some colleges request the kids have an interview but that wasn’t the case with us. No interviews, at least not yet.
I’ve heard some folks say that college visits are a waste of time and money since you can explore the colleges website and get the same information. I don’t agree. The website presents the information in the manner the college wants you to receive it. As a senior DS visited one college as a Freshman-for-the-day. He went to a couple classes and ate lunch with upper classmen. It was an enlightening day for him. He found the chemistry class and the calculus class were covering material he had as a Junior in his AP classes. What a huge confidence booster to him. Over lunch he asked each upperclassman how they were able to pay for college. Each replied that Daddy was paying their way. DS knows that will not be true for him and wonders whether he will fit in with kids who are financially better well-off than he. At a different college the students spoke of their scholarships, summer jobs and internships when asked how they were paying for college. Not one referred to Daddy paying their way.
It really was in early fall of senior year that DS began exploring college websites, investigating what programs they had, courses a student might take, the college’s SAT score profile and even the college’s girl : boy ratio. The college visits did eliminate a couple colleges and moved one college to the bottom of the list. DS also removed one college when he heard about the extra hoops for homeschoolers above and beyond what other colleges require from homeschooled students.
We went on campus tours both while schools were in session and over the summer time. For us it didn’t make much of a difference. Perhaps if we were looking at very small schools it would make a difference but I also know that DS will be attending admitted senior day. These days will give him a better chance to see the schools in session and get a feel for whether or not it is the school for him.
But how do you find out about colleges and which ones might be best for your dc? Here are a few to get you started. We used the first two.
DS didn’t attend a college fair junior year but then insisted upon attending one senior year. I reluctantly took him. It was at the local college and at least 150 colleges were there. DS walked the aisles and I walked a few steps behind him, giving him his space. At one point I suggested he speak to one college. When DS resisted I happened to mention that the school is an excellent engineering school and he should explore it. Plus it is quite a drive from our home. DS went over and spoke to the man, a little mini-interview. This school is now at the top of DS list.
I’m glad we didn’t rule out college fairs, on site visits, specialty days or all-day visits. It has been part of our journey and a fun part!