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!

4 Steps to Finding the Right College Fit

In July 2015, the Washington Post noted that there were about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States.


It’s no wonder, then, that the first question about college that most parents have for me is, “How in the world do we help guide Johnny to know which colleges are right for him?”

It can seem overwhelming, but there is a way to start your son or daughter on the right track.  

Your teen should:

  1. Talk to the high school guidance counselor early on.

Start this as a sophomore or early in the junior year. Students who make these appointments without being beckoned make a good impression. An even better impression is made by students who meet with their counselors regularly and invite their parents along. With hundreds of kids to one counselor in many high schools, the students who make the extra effort get the best support.

  1. Use online tools to find potential college matches.

Check out an online search engine tool such as BigFuture. Your teen can plug in personal preferences and find out which colleges meet his or her personal criteria.

  1. Check out the book Fiske Guide to Colleges.

This one is a favorite of mine for learning about colleges on a more intimate level. It doesn’t have all U.S. schools in there (there are about 300 institutions listed) but it’s got a terrific selection. A couple of great features include the “Overlap” sections for each school which introduces students to colleges that are similar but maybe that they hadn’t heard of yet. It also includes direct comments from students with their impressions of each school.

  1. Talk to friends and family about their alma maters.

Your teen should take advantage of who they know (and who you know) to ask about the colleges that friends and family have graduated from – what they liked, didn’t like, what was memorable. And, most importantly, would their trusted friend recommend it?


Finding colleges that are a good fit is the first step in the planning process. How’s your college search going with your teen? Leave a comment below!