No matter how much research you do with brochures, book, and websites, there really is no substitute for visiting a college in person. You need to see for yourself the area surrounding the campus, the scale of the campus, the vibe you feel, and if the current students look like a community where you would belong.
Here are answers to the most common questions I am asked about college visits:
Q: When should we visit?
A: When your students are in any grade of high school, it is a good idea to visit a campus if you happen to be traveling to another part of the country for a vacation or other reason. In the Fall of 11th grade, I suggest you start visiting your local colleges, looking for examples of small, large, urban, and rural campuses so your student knows what type of schools interest him or her before you do real travel. Spring of Junior year is a good time to visit schools further from home based on your fall visits and college list. Summer is an OK time to visit, but since colleges are not in session, you don't get the real feel since many buildings are closed. In this case, take a look at the other students on tour to get an idea of the students who apply and attend the college.
Q: Should we visit all the schools on our list?
A: It is not necessary to visit all the schools on your list before you apply. If a school is far away from you, but looks like a good fit on paper, your student should apply, and then visit if he or she is admitted and still wants to consider that school.
Q: Do we have to sign up for the tour?
A: It is very desirable to sign up for the info session and tour when you visit a college. Here you should listen for keywords used to describe the school and its students, unique programs, and how they position themselves relative to other colleges. Wandering around a campus on your own only allows you to look at buildings which does not give you a full or fair understanding to help you make a decision.
Q: Does a visit help my chances of admission?
A: Maybe... Some schools track "demonstrated interest", and others do not. If you show interest in a school by visiting, sending an email, meeting the rep at high school, applying ED, etc., then they know you are more likely to accept their offer if you are admitted than someone who has never shown any interest. Ask Eric, or google a school's Common Data Set to see if they track demonstrated interest.
Q: Any other advice?
A: More than you want to read, but I'll add some final comments.
1. Try not to let poor weather, a weak info session speaker, or a student tour guide that you don't connect with impact your overall view of a college.
2. Keep notes and pictures of each school so you can keep them fresh in your mind.
3. Rank all of the schools you have visited after each visit. It forces you to be critical and honest.
4. Don't try to visit more than two schools per day. It's just too busy and you probably can't schedule that many tours per day anyway.
Have comments or questions? Contact me!