By Lee Binz
Spring is the time to visit colleges. Arranging college visits during spring of junior year is an important step toward getting into a perfect-fit college. Your family needs to really get to know the college. Colleges can look very similar on paper, with brochures full of sunny days and beautiful fall leaves. Even when pictures and statistics look the same, you really don’t know what a college is like until you visit.
The college also needs to get to know your student. What colleges really want is "demonstrated interest." Learn how to demonstrate interest and get six important tips for your college visit. Evaluating colleges carefully can make the transition from homeschool senior to independent college freshman much easier.
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Visiting colleges is a great way to demonstrate interest. Through your actions, show an interest in the college and a desire for your child to attend if offered admission. Demonstrating interest takes time and effort. Colleges do not want to be rejected because that can affect their ranking. For this reason, colleges are more likely to admit you and give you scholarships if they think you will accept their offer of admission. Visiting the campus indicates your child is more likely to stay at that one college for all four years without transferring.
6 Tips for College Visits
If you’re a parent of a homeschooled teenager, you’ve probably been thinking about college for a while now! As you and your student prepare for that not-so-far-away event, now is the time to start visiting colleges that interest you. Colleges can look similar on paper, with brochures full of sunny days and beautiful fall leaves. Even when pictures and statistics look the same, you don’t know what a college is like until you visit.
Tip 1 - Let them know you’re coming
Whether you visit a campus on a special preview day, a regular school day, or for an overnight visit, you should sign up with the admissions department and let them know you are coming. It’s easy. Most college websites include a place to register for a visit. Don’t miss this opportunity to let colleges know you’re interested in them! Some colleges keep records of how often prospective students come to visit. If you decide a college may be the one and you’ve visited them four times, they will look on this favorably and value you more because of it.
Tip 2 - Meet admission representatives
When visiting a prospective college, your student should dress neatly and be clean, pleasant, and charming. The school will likely be watching you as closely as you are watching them. Students should make a point to talk to the college admission staff. It’s easy for parents to take control here and run the show, but this is a mistake. This time, your student should do most of the interaction.
It is important for parents to find out the college’s policy for homeschool applicants and determine what records they want from your homeschool. There are many colleges where homeschoolers are treated the same as all other applicants. Other colleges have certain hoops homeschoolers need to jump through, perhaps additional testing or requirements unique to the college. It’s important to know about requirements up front, so make sure to ask about this during your visit.
Whether you visit a campus on a special preview day, a regular school day or for an overnight visit, you should sign up with the Admissions department and let them know you are coming. It’s very easy. Most college websites will have a place to register for a visit. Don’t miss this opportunity to let colleges know you’re interested in them! Some colleges keep records of how often prospective students come to visit. If you decide a particular college may be “the one” and you’ve visited them four times, they will look at this very favorably and value you more because of it.
Tip 3 – Take a tour and a class
Prospective students are usually asked if they want to visit a classroom and take a campus tour. These are great opportunities — don’t miss them! Choose a class that interests your student or attend a general freshman level class to see what the first year of college will be like. Attend informational meetings with the financial aid department, if offered.
As you tour the campus, remember that the tour guide will usually only show you the places that make the school look good. Throughout all of these activities, you and your student should be taking notes. Write down the details (names, classes visited, impressions, strengths, and concerns). This information will help you remember each college you visit and will provide your student with great content as they prepare their application essays.
Tip 4 – Evaluate with all your senses
While visiting, use all your senses as you walk around: look, listen, feel, taste, and touch. Your answers to the following questions might help you choose between colleges that seem to be equal on paper. Prospective students and their parents are usually given meal vouchers to eat on campus.
- Is the food healthy and appealing? Could your child eat there for four years and remain healthy?
- Does this college seem like a positive environment?
- Can you picture your child living here for four years?
- Do the students appear happy and respectful?
- Is it a pleasant atmosphere?
- How does it make you feel about safety and security?
Tip 5 – Ask essential questions
Students should ask open-ended questions to (hopefully) engage in meaningful conversation. When you visit a college, prepare questions in advance to get information you can't find online or in their view-books. Think about general categories of questions you might need to ask. Phrase them the way you would ask in real life, not using words from someone else. Ask about admission, academics, financial aid, student life, campus experiences, and how they measure success. Try to ask open-ended questions that don't have a yes or no answer.
Parents may want to ask about homeschool admission policies. A simple, open-ended question can tell you a lot about whether a particular university is friendly or fussy toward homeschoolers. Explain that you are a homeschool family. Ask if there is anything specific they like to see from homeschool students, and how you can help them understand your teen’s education.
There are important issues you want to discuss on your visit. Review the list of essential questions for a college visit in our infographic. Think about what you learned and ask yourself a few questions about what you learned and how you felt afterward.
Tip 6 – Evaluate campus carefully
Visiting a college is a critical step in finding a perfect-fit college for your teen. Assess each university carefully so you know their views. You need to know whether a college with “Christian” in their name will match your family values. You can tell little from the name of a college and you can tell only a little more from their marketing materials. You don’t know the personality of the college until you encounter it in person, during a college visit.
There is no perfect college, as there are no perfect people. But a purposeful visit can help you find the best college for your child.
Send Thank You Notes
Your student should send a" thank you note by email within a few days of their visit. It's acceptable to also follow up by snail-mail with a mailed letter, which will demonstrate serious interest in the college.
The thank you email should not only express thanks, but also act as a follow-up, with questions that continue the conversation and interaction with the college. Parents and teens can brainstorm ideas to include in the letter, but it should be composed by the teen, so it sounds like them. The emails should also be sent from the student via a serious email address, not a goofy one with immature or questionable words or phrases.
Send thank you notes to every person you can who represented the college: the admission officers you met, tour guides, professors, college fair representatives, the person who interviewed your child, and, even those who sent letters of recommendation. Some colleges keep a record of how many contacts you make, so it can help to write a letter by hand.
I realize it’s an investment of time, money, and energy to visit colleges like this. Think of each visit as an investment in your college fund. Hopefully these interactions will pay off in the long run, with wonderful admission offers and great scholarships.
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.