Planning the Perfect College Visit

By Angelina Sanchez

When applying to colleges, most students feel unprepared. Where do I want to go? How many schools are too many? What about interviews? The list of questions extends forever and college planning seems daunting. Students and parents have different expectations and communication is not usually at the top of anyone’s priorities list. Following is a College Planning Guide that includes helpful tips for both parents and students. From communication to compiling a list of schools to planning visits to questions to ask, this guide simplifies the process of choosing a school and helping to plan your teen’s future.


The first roadblock that many families encounter when college planning is lack of communication. Expectations differ greatly in the college planning process and lack of discussion leads to unnecessary stress. Initial conversations should cover cost, distance, and academics. If a school is not within your budget, scholarships and grants are available based on need and academics. If these are not an option, consider loans, especially if your teen plans on going to a school beyond your budget. If none of these are possible, make sure he or she knows which schools are financially within your family’s means before applying to alleviate potential disappointment later.

When discussing distance, consider your teen’s opinion. Having open discussions leads to compromises and mutually agreeable solutions.

Once you have decided on price ranges and distances, your teen should start a list of schools based on academics (course offerings) as well as facilities available and faculty employed at each.

Managing the List of Schools

A comprehensive list should not exceed 10-12 schools; you and your teen should develop a timeframe for completing all of the visits on his or her list.  This timeframe should begin halfway through junior year and end by the summer before senior year. “Starting your visits in your junior allows enough time for a number of visits and also repeat visits during the college search,” suggests Dean of Admissions, Derrick Wetzel of DeSales University. “If your first visit is during the spring of your junior year, you have time during your senior year to visit again when you’re accepted.”

During the summer before senior year, you and your teen should plan to have completed these visits. Your teen should also begin working on his or her personal essay, which is usually the part of their application that takes longest.

Once the school year starts, your teen should begin applying to schools on the prepared list and should ask for teacher recommendations no later than October of senior year. By November of that same year, applications should be sent to all schools on the list. Applying early increases the chance that most schools will respond fairly quickly.

Planning Visits

When planning visits, you and your teen should prioritize the order of your visits according to which schools are target schools, reach schools, and safety schools. Visit target schools first as they are most likely where your teen plans on attending. Visit reach schools second and safety schools third. By placing schools in priority order, you allow your teen to focus on schools that are most important, instead of placing significance on schools he or she is not interested in.

• A target school is within your student’s academic reach. Their grades match up with the school’s requirements and their extra-curricular activities are a good fit.

• A safety school’s requirements would fall below your student’s academic reach and safety schools would be easier for your teen to gain admittance to.

• A reach school is out of your teen’s academic record, but only by a tiny bit. A reach school is not impossible to get into, but definitely harder than a target school.

Plan on visiting multiple schools in one day and group your visits by distance. If travelling out of state to visit a school, visit all schools on your list in the area instead of making multiple trips. Start early and visit three schools in one day, spending about two hours at each.

When visiting, keep all literature and take notes on anything that interests you and your teen. It is often small aspects of schools that hook students, so be sure to focus on the details while visiting. You and your teen should prepare a list of questions you both plan on asking on a tour, in an interview, or during an information session, as your concerns will differ slightly. Listening and asking informed questions demonstrates interest and involvement. Teens should make sure the person they are speaking with has not already answered their questions; encourage your teen to pay close attention to the responses given. “There’s no question that shouldn’t be asked unless it puts the tour guide on the spot because it’s too personal.  For instance, asking about the tour guide’s financial aid package or GPA is off limits,” Wetzel recommends.

You also have the option to go on a private tour. Most schools offer these if you reserve a time in advance and this can be a more intimate view of the school.  Wetzel adds, “Both an Open House and a private visit are great tools to determine the right fit for your education. Making a decision on which visit is the best is entirely based on the student’s personal preference.”

An interview is not required at most schools, but is recommended. Interviews allow the staff to get to know your student, which helps them make decisions later in the application process.

Comparing Schools

When you have completed all of your visits, sit down with the information you have gathered and discuss where you both felt comfortable. This is a good time to take out the notebook you used on your visits. You may not remember what your thoughts were but if you wrote them down, you can revisit them later and make informed decisions.

Discuss with your teen the pros and cons of larger versus smaller schools, private versus public colleges, colleges versus universities, and how you each felt on your visits. Keep in mind your discussion on cost, distance, and academics.

Though planning for your student’s future may seem intimidating at first, there are many ways to make the process simple and easy for everyone involved. Remember that it is less about which school “looks” better and more about where your student feels best. Choosing a college is about finding the best “fit,” something to keep in mind throughout the entire process.

DeSales University

2755 Station Avenue
Center Valley, PA 18034

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