the college application process: making the most of the college visit (part three)

Monday, October 15, 2018
College visits and tours are very important in this whole process.  Your child needs to get a really good feel for the campus and the environment. We have done lots of local and long distance tours with our boys and more are planned for this year. In fact, in the next few weeks, Dave and Harry will be visiting Tulane and Loyola New Orleans.

Harry visiting Loyola Marymount in Los Angelos last February (Presidents Weekend).
He loved it there.

Unless you are traveling and happen to be near a college of interest, I do not recommend touring a lot of schools before the beginning of junior year.  This is strictly my opinion but I will tell you why I think that.  Choosing a college is extremely overwhelming.  It will likely be one of the biggest decisions your child has made thus far in life.  I think that if we start the process too early, they get burned out and have a more difficult time figuring out what they really want. I also think that talking about and pushing "college stuff" too early leads to tension in the family. You want your kids to be excited to look at schools not get sick of it. Most kids completely change their "list" of schools in their head and if you start too early you waste some time, energy and money.  Furthermore, most of the kids touring are juniors and seniors and it is intimidating and changes the "feel" of the tour if you are a freshmen or sophomore. And the feel is really how a lot of people remember the school.

So, I think junior year is a good time to start visiting schools.  Once your child has a list, start locally.  College visits can be very expensive.  When you factor in days off from school (our school only excuses 2 days for college visits) and work, plane tickets, accommodations, rental cars and meals, they add up.  So, my advice is to get a few local visits under your belt first. We have done them in Texas, California, Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina and Louisiana.  Dave and Harry are going to New Orleans this month and probably back to CA in the Spring after we know about admissions.

Me and Will at Baylor 3 or 4 years ago (also Presidents weekend)!

Furthermore, I advise you/your child to look up how important a "touch" is to the schools your child is applying to.  A "touch" is any interaction your child has with the school.  It can be an email, attendance at a local information session, meeting with the admissions rep when they visit your child's school or a campus tour.  Some schools track "touches" and consider them in the application process.  Some schools do not.  The reason this is important is that most people cannot afford to visit every single school they are interested in (unless they are local or have a very small list).  So, I suggest visiting the schools that count touches and/or the ones your child is most interested in first (before application decisions) and save a few visits for after they are admitted and have their financial package.

Let me explain with an example.  Will was applying to schools in Texas, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina and Ohio.  We simply could not fly all of those places in one year.   In fall of Junior year, Dave and Will flew to Virginia to visit UVA and William and Mary. And then we drove and did lots of Texas visits Spring of Junior year.   We waited to see where he got in and what kinds of scholarships he got before any more visits.  Then when he had narrowed his choice down to three schools ((winter of senior year), he and Dave flew to visit Clemson and Miami of Ohio.  They never even visited the Colorado schools (which worked out well because they were not in the final running).  He got into all of his schools but by the time he was making his decision, the Colorado schools were not in his top three so we saved a lot by not visiting them.

SMU visit February 14, 2015

Tips for the actual visit.

1. Try to plan your visit when school is in session.  I know this is hard to do sometimes but Presidents weekend and fall holidays are good times to visit.  I highly suggest you book the tours well in advance if you go on a holiday weekend like Presidents Day as the tours fill up.  We go Presidents weekend in junior year to scope out possible schools and in senior year to confirm schools that they have been admitted to. You want to see the campus in full swing. You want too see the student body and what it looks like on a typical day. I like Friday or Monday tours.

2. Plan to stay in the area for about 24 hours. The actual "tour" is one very small part of the visit.  It lasts an hour or two.  Your child cannot make such a big decision based on  1-2 hour tour. Roam the halls of the academic buildings.  We have knocked on doors of business and geology professors and started up chats with them.  Eat in the dining hall and at the local restaurants and people watch.  See if you can get someone to take you through the residence halls (most tours do not do this for safety reasons).  Go to the recreation center and strike up conversations with students to see what they like and don't like about the school.  See if you can attend a concert or show or student activity.  Read the campus paper. Visit the bookstore and the student activity center or office of Greek life. The goal is for your child to see if they can imagine themselves living there for 4 years.  If your tour is on a Monday, go a day early and go to church.  We have taken our boys to Mass at schools they are considering and I think it has been very helpful. I also suggest a visit to the campus ministry center, Catholic center or Hillel center or whatever your faith based center might be if that is important to your child. When traveling, Dave and the boys have also explored the local city life, hiked and driven around.  It is important to get a feel for the whole area especially if it is far from home.

3. Look at the truly important factors.  A tour guide and weather can make or break a tour BUT it shouldn't. I remember our tour at SMU the best.  We had the most charismatic tour guide.  He was funny and interesting.  It was the most gorgeous day with blue skies and sunshine and perfect weather.  Everything about the tour was perfect. I was ready to enroll myself. While it was the best tour, it was not the best school for Will.  Similarly, if you get a boring tour guide or it is a miserable day, do not transfer those feelings to the school as a whole if possible. That is why I think it is really important to spend lots of time on and around campus outside of just the tour.

4. Stay near the front on the tour.  The tour guide casually chats in between locations/stops on the tour and there are SO many useful nuggets of information you will miss if you/your child is in the back.  This is super important.

5. See if you know a current student and arrange to meet up with them. This is not always possible but I have always asked my friends if they knew any current students at the schools we were about to visit.  Honestly, someone almost always knows someone.  My kids have often met with a current student for a quick coffee or chat or tour of the residence hall with a student we knew from home or a mutual friend. Anyone know anyone at Tulane or Loyola New Orleans?

6. Send a thank you email to the admissions person or liaison.  I will be honest I am not sure my boys did this every time but I encouraged them to.  I think it makes a nice statement and you never know what is going in that admission file.  It could count as a "touch."

This is the cathedral at University of San Diego.  
Harry and Dave attended Mass there on their visit last February.

I have gotten several emails and direct messages from people telling me how much they appreciate these posts.  And I have to tell you, that is why I am doing them.  I am so glad they are helping many of you.  I have one or two more in this series but I think I will post something fun and light  (unrelated to the college process) next.  Then, I will post the overall timeline and tips for applications and essays.  I love your feedback so leave me some in the comments.


  1. I have been enjoying these posts! Thank you so much! The kids have grown so much! I remember reading your blog all the time back in the day! Our youngest is a sophomore and he will most likely be looking at out of state or town colleges, so this information is very helpful! Our 18 y/o got into out of town and state colleges but ultimately decided to stay close to home and attend UCF here in Central Florida.

    1. Thank you for the feedback. I have enjoyed writing these posts and it means a lot to know they are helping others. Sounds like your daughter made the right choice. I think each path is different and some stay close to home and some don't. I wish you the best with your son as he figures out what he wants.

  2. So glad you are back to blogging! My oldest is a freshman in high school, and these college posts are very helpful.

    1. Thank you. I am so glad they are helpful!!!

    2. Thank you. You have helped us so much and we have started the process thanks to you.


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