AHHH! The excitement and family bonding of piling into the car (or the train or the plane) and heading off to explore the many college locations that promise a bright future for our maturing young adults! (insert sound of screeching tires) But wait! This scenario is out of order. There are so many other considerations to make before packing a bag, not the least of which is a plan to implement upon arriving at the destination(s).
Let’s start at the beginning and forestall the fun part until we’re better prepared.
There are big schools and small ones, schools far away from home and those close by; schools offering a 4 year degree and others with graduate programs; schools his or her friends are attending and schools where nobody knows your name; the school mom, dad, brother, or sister went to and schools that mom, dad, brother, or sister wish they had. The choices are virtually limitless, injecting the need for a little preplanning.
STEP ONE: Make a list of potential colleges. Don’t limit yourself yet. At this point, 20 schools is not too many to handle and the list will decrease as you make informed decisions.
STEP TWO: Check online to see the qualifications each school seeks in their admission process. Compare the “wants” with your student’s academic and extracurricular history. Decisions at this step can revolve around either end of the spectrum: low GPA and ACT results will not be impressive to the College of William and Mary, but high scores may indicate that your academically gifted student will not be challenged sufficiently by schools with low standards.
STEP THREE: Visit your high school’s website to check for a link to Naviance. Follow the steps to check out the scattergram of recently admitted graduates from your high school to each college, based on GPA and standardized test scores. This information can be a second decision point academically or for other reasons.
I personally chose a college which no person from my high school had attended in the previous 3 years, but I had to wait until graduation to get the most current information. Your student may want to be “the only one” or part of a large contingent from the neighborhood. It's a question often neglected, yet a viable decision point.
STEP FOUR: Select an itinerary (or two or three). Try to limit the number of schools visited on each trip to a reasonable goal, maybe 3, that will avoid getting them confused. While the plan may be geography based, think about having one large campus on the same trip as a smaller one.
STEP FIVE: Contact the admissions department at each school on the itinerary and schedule a guided visit. This gets your name on the roster and gives you someone to answer questions.
STEP SIX: Have a standard list of questions so you can gather comparative information. Other issues will come up at each campus, but you will be assured of having the same baseline input from each school.
STEP SEVEN: Take notes during and after the visit. Write down your opinions as soon as practical and include comments that will bring the specific school to mind, like “huge oak trees in quad.” Anything you can do to keep the memories organized will be helpful once you’re back home.
STEP EIGHT: Pack your bags. Remember that you’ll be walking around these campuses, so be warm (or cool) and have very comfortable shoes.