Spring is the time of year when families pile into their minivans and head out on spring vacations. If they have a college-bound teen, they often opt to add some college visits to their vacation itineraries. Granted, showing up at a college tour with family in tow is probably not the best impression to make. But wise families know that there are all kinds of distractions to be found on a campus while the prospective student takes in the college culture and makes some important college contacts. At the very least, one parent can accompany while the other parent entertains the siblings.

Take the tour, but get off the beaten path

Campus tours are given by college students; usually students who make the best impression and adore the college and its campus. Campus tours give the student an overview of the campus: a look at a nicely staged dorm room, a walk through the student union, and possibly some views of the classrooms. Students should use the time to ask some questions of the tour guide and take notes. It’s not a bad idea to take some pictures either. It’s easy for college tours to become a blur and simple to forget which dorm room went with which college. Pictures help jog the memory.

Once the tour is complete, venture off the beaten path. Walk around campus, get a feel for the student body, and go places the tour guide didn’t go. Look at student bulletin boards, pick up a student newspaper, and eat a meal or snack in the student union. These are important facets of information students won’t learn on the standard campus tour.

Schedule an interview, and ask some need-to-know questions

It’s an absolute waste of time to visit a college campus without a) letting them know you are there, and b) scheduling an interview. This interview is not only a chance to express interest in the college, but gives the student an opportunity to interview the college. This might seem a bit odd, but that’s in effect what should be happening during an interview. Each applicant has many colleges to choose from and learning about each specific college is a crucial part of the decision process. This is also an opportunity for the student to impress the admissions officer

Meet with a financial aid officer, and ask the tough questions

College financial aid officers will be able to answer all the questions related to financial aid, scholarships, and college costs. Scheduling an appointment while on campus makes perfect sense and will assist in making decisions related to college costs and financing the education. It’s imperative as a consumer to understand how financial aid works and the options available to incoming students and upperclassmen.

Sit in on a class: observe the students and the professor

One of the best gauges in determining the perfect fit of a college is to sit in on a class and observe the interactions between the professors and the students. If a class in the prospective major is available, this is the optimum choice. By doing this, students can get a good idea of class size and get some contact with the students and the professor.

Talk to the students—not just the tour guide

As mentioned previously, tour guides are trained to put their best foot forward during the campus tours. Speaking with current students will not only yield honest responses related to the campus, students and professors, but will give you a valuable contact for future questions. Most students are more than willing to share college information with prospective students, and will often give you an honest estimation of the college experience. If given the chance, it’s great to spend the night in the dorm with other students. Many colleges offer this added tool to assist prospective students in their college choices.

Follow this simple formula: campus tour + interviews with admissions and financial aid  officers + observing a classroom + conversations with students = college visit success formula. These visits will serve to help narrow down the college choices.

Are you preparing for college visits during spring vacation? Did you know it’s best to visit only 2 colleges per day? If you have any questions about college visits, please leave a comment here.

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