Apr 17 2014, 3:12pm CDT | by Forbes
Unfortunately, too many college campus tours focus on the student union and amenities instead of visits to financial aid, career services and professors’ offices. However, students and parents can plan their own tours or preferably supplement the pre-planned tours offered by the college.
Tour colleges virtually first
Check out what the campus looks like online by watching tour videos on www.collegeweeklive.com beforehand. The tours will give your teen insights into what the campus environment looks like without having to visit just yet. If there’s too little grass or the campus doesn’t have enough of an urban environment, the school can be eliminated without the expense of a visit. The website also offers chances to webchat with admission officers and experts in areas such as writing college admissions essay and paying for college.
Call important offices and ask important questions
By the time you pay for plane tickets or gas, hotel and dining, college visits can cost hundreds to over a thousand per visit. Cut back on costs by having your teen call key college offices ahead of time. The key offices are the department offices of the student’s perspective majors and career services.
Over the phone, ask a career services counselor where students are getting employed after graduation and what internship opportunities might be available for a first-year student. Ask a student in the department office what it’s like to study at that school. If there isn’t someone in the office at the time who is studying in that department, ask when you call back when there is. Ask these questions: Are there a lot of projects? How much time is spent on coursework? What is their favorite and least favorite part of the curriculum?
At this point, families have enough information to decide which colleges to visit.
Keep timing in mind
If the student is a high school senior and has financial aid award letters in hand, they should plan to visit all the schools they can afford as soon as possible. The reason why you don’t want to wait until close to the decision date is there may be an opportunity to increase university grants when visiting the financial aid office in person. College visits aren’t just about viewing the campus. It’s a time to gain new information and sometimes negotiate financial aid packages. When possible, juniors should visit campuses at least a month or two before applying.
Make appointments in advance
Making appointments in advance is the main difference between a great college visit and a wasted one. Your son or daughter should meet with a professor who teaches a freshman-level course in the department your student is interested in. Ask what the class is like in terms of size, personal attention and coursework. Always ask for a syllabus to review later. The bonus to meeting with a college professor is the meeting will take place in a building your student will actually take classes in. Since one building on campus could be a mile away from another, it’s important to see the parts of campus where your teen will spend the majority of his or her time.
Other important offices to visit are career services and financial aid. Career services can continue the discussion started on the phone about post-graduation and in-school job opportunities. You want to make sure they’ll help your offspring get a job after graduation while also nurturing their career exploration process during college.
Finally, always meet with financial aid. This is an opportunity to ask out about additional scholarship opportunities. If there is a program on campus that offers peer financial counseling, make an appointment at one of these offices, too. It’s important to ask a current student what college life costs: entertianment, extracurricular activities and transportation.
Take the traditional campus tour, too.
It’s fine to look at the student union, gym and dorms. These are places your teen will need to know about as well, especially since they’ll probably want to sample dorm food. But just remember to supplement this tour with the other appointments. Under no circumstances should you visit a campus and only take the traditional tour.
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