5 Steps Before the College Visit

By Bob Cole

  • March 11, 2022
  • 3 min read


Father and teenage son using a computer to research their college visit

A highlight of junior year is the college visit. This is when the search gets very real. But, before you even gas up the car, make sure you’re spending time on the right colleges and spending your visits the right way.

Take these five steps before stepping foot on campus:


1. Consider what your student wants from college

 What courses interest them? What careers are they considering? Do they hope to attend college nearby or far away? Do they prefer the city, suburbs, or countryside? 

 Academics and campus life are equally important. It won’t matter how great the classes are if your student is miserable in a big city. Get answers to these questions early so you head in the right direction.


2. Be realistic

 A good rule of thumb to help guide the college search is determining what’s affordable. This might be a single dollar amount or a range. Knowing what your family can afford will help narrow down what campuses to visit.

 After you figure out the number, you’ll want to compare it to something. But beware! A college’s “sticker” price can be misleading. Families rarely pay the published price once financial aid kicks in. 

 To get a better picture of what you’ll pay, use the net price calculator on all college websites. This tool will estimate how much financial aid your student might receive and give you the actual cost of attending the school. Since the calculator works off estimates, use it as a guide.

 In general, private colleges and universities list higher sticker prices but offer more financial aid. Before eliminating a college, get a good idea of your family’s actual costs.


3. Do your homework

 Consumers don’t shop for a new home by driving around. They talk with a trusted real estate agent, review property information, and browse photos and video online — well before putting the key in the ignition. The same goes for college visits. 

 College visits can take up a lot of time and money. Before heading out the door, do some homework to ensure you’re maximizing your time.

  • Get on the admissions mailing list.
  • Use tools such as College Navigator to dig through data on costs, admissions, and graduation rates for colleges across the country.
  • Search for reviews from current and former students.

A college website only scratches the surface — and it’s by no means enough information to get you in the car. Dig around before putting a school on your itinerary.


4. Look beyond the packaged tour

You’ve booked a one or two-hour tour. Now what? Plan to spend much more time on campus. This is your big chance to get a feel for campus life.

  • Schedule a meeting with a department dean or other faculty.
  • Sit in on a class.
  • Visit common areas, like the student union and library.
  • Look at small details, from the overall condition of the campus to the quality of food in the dining hall.

Some things may be more important to you than to your student. But you know it’s all important.


5. Don’t avoid money talk

While on campus, see if you can get face time with the financial aid office. A representative could answer your questions about school-specific aid and deadlines. 

And don’t be shy. Financial aid reps help families maneuver paying for college every day. They’re there to help.


Final thought: visiting colleges during a pandemic

A lot of colleges are offering tours by reservation only, group capacity is smaller, and availability is limited. You may not be able to freely walk the campus or sit in on a class. That said, colleges are better equipped nowadays to offer alternatives.

Instead of an in-person visit, try the college’s virtual experience. They likely have videos and interactive maps spanning the campus. This is a better option than forgoing a visit altogether.

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