How to Get the Most out of College Visits

May is a popular month to plan college visits for juniors, and even for sophomores. Every college visit I went on with my kids was really eye-opening and motivating for them.

Seeing what colleges are like first-hand can help to spark excitement in your teen and a healthy anticipation for what’s to come. But even more importantly, experiencing colleges in person is the very best way I know to determine which schools are most appealing based on their personal preferences and which schools would, ultimately, be a good fit.

Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of visiting colleges with your teen:

(And even before beginning, print out your free College Visit Checklist to help your teen keep track of what to do on each visit and how each school ranks compared to the others.)

The Best Times to Visit

I recommend that students try to visit between Monday-Thursday during a school week, because the best days to see what a campus is like are the days that classes are in session and things are bustling.

Of course, constraints and real life happen. If you can only visit colleges during off-peak times, you should certainly still visit! You’ll gain a lot from just seeing the campus and be able to get a sense of college life there. In fact, my youngest daughter and I couldn’t schedule a time other than a Friday or Saturday due to other obligations at home. And she still found the perfect fit!

So much for following my own rules….

Arrange for a Tour

This is typically as simple as visiting the school’s website and registering for a tour within the admissions pages. You can even Google the college name and the word “visit” or “tour,” and you’ll find just what you’re looking for.

Most campus tours start with an information session, where you’ll learn a little about the college before you start touring. Then, you’ll go on a campus tour with (most likely) a current student at the school.

In addition to simply joining a tour, you can arrange for other experiences on campus, like:

  • Sitting in on a class
  • Meeting with an admissions representative
  • Meeting with a financial aid representative
  • Exploring academic departments
  • Sitting in on a club or sports practice session
  • Eating in the cafeteria
  • Visiting the student union
  • …even spending the night in a dorm!

Contact the admissions offices of the colleges you and your teen are visiting early on to ask about arranging for these special experiences. They’re absolutely worth it!

Before You Get There

Your teen really should do some homework to learn about the colleges they’re visiting ahead of time. This will allow some time for them to formulate questions that will help them understand more about how the school might be a good fit. At the very least, they should do some online research and talk to anyone they may know who’s attended.

Print out a map of the campus prior to leaving and figure out where the admissions office is. That’ll likely be your starting point.

What to Do While You’re There

  • Be sure your teen is taking notes and photos to record things they like or dislike about the campus, or anything else that will be helpful to remember later on. The College Visit Checklist will help them do just that. Especially if you visit a bunch of colleges, these details can be easy to forget!
  • Campus tour guides are often paid to make sure their college looks and sounds amazing, so in addition to the tour, you both should walk through campus a bit on your own and your teen should talk with random students on campus. Asking current students what they really like about the school and what they don’t like is a great way to get some very candid feedback and insight.
  • Grab a student newspaper while you’re there, too. They’re great publications for learning a bit more about the feel of campus and things that are of interest to the school’s students. They tend to be more objective than what you might hear from a tour guide, as well.

Learn All You Can

The goal of a college visit is for your teen to get a sense of how they’ll feel when attending the school. They need to make sure it’s a comfortable place for them; just the right fit. Many times they’ll have a gut reaction when visiting a campus, either good, bad or indifferent. Make sure they pay attention to that in addition to all of the other information you both gather. That initial reaction does matter!

If it’s not possible to visit a school that your teen is interested in, many colleges offer virtual tours on their websites – these can give you a great glimpse of what you’d experience in person. A great resource for this is – just enter the college name in the search area and you’re set! Also, be sure to research the heck out of each school online to learn more.

Enjoy those visits!

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Encouraging Better Grades from Your Teen

So often, teen’s grades start slipping due to procrastination, not handing in homework, not finishing projects on time, poor test scores – you know the drill. It makes for a tough home environment when two incredulous parents are struggling to figure out how to get through to a teen who just doesn’t care what they think, and doesn’t think there’s really a problem in the first place. As much as you try to keep a stress and drama-free home…well, I’m sure you know how grades can really put a damper on that plan.College admissions folks put a lot of emphasis on GPA (grade point average) and on academic rigor (expert-speak for “challenging courses”). In fact, it’s right up there at the top of the list for items they look at first when considering applications. So, it’s natural to feel a little pressure here.

And I’m sure that, after employing an arsenal of tactics to encourage your teen to lift those grades without any success at all (persuasion, reverse psychology, bribes – none of these are recommended), you’re probably ready for some new ideas. Well, that’s where this blog comes in!

A Self-Development Junkie’s Epiphany

If you’re not familiar with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, you should be. There is so much to learn and take action on within this book. With chapters entitled “Believe in Yourself,” “Unleash the Power of Goal Setting,” and “Success Leaves Clues,” you’ll find successes in your own life with these actionable principles.

The reason I bring up his book is because he also happened to create the same book in a simpler format for teens: The Success Principles for Teens: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. This book will seriously help your teen identify and focus on their goals for the future.

Sunday Afternoon Book Club

Try instituting a Sunday Afternoon Book Club with just you and your high schooler. Make it a goal to read a chapter a week and discuss how you can each use the principles you’ve learned in your own lives. Starting with the first chapter, “Take 100% Responsibility for your Life,” implement new initiatives to hold each other accountable for not blaming others or things outside of yourselves for things that go wrong in life. A friend of mine did this with her daughter and was able to eliminate her perceived lack of time as an excuse to get things done for her business and started getting up earlier in the morning to complete things. Her daughter used it to stop blaming a tough teacher for her low test scores and asked for a tutor to support her in math. They took serious responsibility together right away for everything and found their own solutions – no excuses.

After a few book club meetings, my friend’s daughter was showing significant improvements. Not only in the academic sphere, but she also started setting bigger goals for her future.

With this method, you and your high schooler will have two accountability partners: the book and each other. And, over time, you’ll find that your home life is much less stressful and your teen is doing better academically – both major wins!

Tips for Overcoming the Battle over Grades

  • Provide guidance, not force.  The surest way to get your teen to put up a wall is for you to tell them exactly how things should be done. You’ve probably noticed that power struggles are typically won by your teen in the homework/school arena – it’s one area they’ve got more control over than you do. Take more of a mentoring role here instead of one of authority; I promise it’ll produce better results. You can ask passive questions, like:
    • Are you satisfied with the way things are going?
    • If not, what do you want to do about it? How can you make it better?
    • How can I be helpful to you in this?


  • Model successful behavior. Demonstrate to your teen that you’re developing and working toward goals you’ve set for yourself. Take the available time you have in the car or at dinner to discuss your goals (to run a marathon, complete a project, earn more money at work, start a business). Talk about what’s working for you, where your challenges are, how you plan to overcome them.
  • Hire a tutor. Outsourcing the job of accountability and study support for your teen is one of the best ways I’ve found to ensure there’s less stress at home when it comes to school work. There are great tutoring companies out there, or you can check with your high schooler’s counselor to find out if there are free options for support at the school. Several of my students receive amazing tutoring at home via Skype and a shared whiteboard from people all around the country with PrepNow Tutoring.

A Little Solace: Success in Life Can Happen without Stellar Grades

Knowing that it takes some time for a GPA to increase over time, I did a little of what I call comfort research: It helped me to learn that Steve Jobs and Colin Powell are examples of very successful people who graduated with very low GPAs in high school (2.65 and 2.0, respectively). Maybe that’ll bring you some solace, too.

Heck – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t even graduate college! Just…maybe don’t lead with that. 😉

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!