To Visit Or Not To Visit

by Dr. Dean Skarlis on June 8, 2013

Some parents ask me why they should waste their time and money visiting colleges.  “Isn’t that why we hired your company,”  they quip?  I have personally visited more than 250 colleges and universities.  I can tell you the nuanced difference between Harvard and Penn.  I can also identify colleges you’ve never heard of that may be a great fit for a student, so-called “Hidden Gems,” but my impression of a particular college is only a starting point. 

That’s what we mean by fit.  Some gloves fit me, well, like a glove, but the same glove may not fit a man of the same size, stature, or even hand size.  So we try them on in the store, just to make sure our investment is not wasted.  It’s the same with colleges.  If you plan to spend $80,000 – $250,000 on a 4-year degree, you’d better make sure it fits while you’re still in the store. 

I recommend to most of my families that they see 10-12 schools over the course of the student’s junior to senior year.  This may seem like a lot, but it’s really not, especially if you’ve systematically developed a list in the same general geographic area.  For instance, with some careful planning, a family could visit Boston College, Providence College, Holy Cross and Assumption College in two days and two nights.  It may be a busy two days, but it is possible, and voila, they have now visited 33% of  their recommended schools in just 2 days. 

Assessing the student culture, specific programs, financial aid and scholarship options, and the general tone of the campus are critical reasons to visit, but there are other reasons as well.  Many schools track students’ interest in their college, so if one student visits and the other one doesn’t, the one who took the time to travel to campus may be perceived as being more interested in the school.  She may get the nod, all other things being equal, in the admission decision.  Why?  College admissions counselors are concerned with “yield,” which is simply the number of students they admit who actually choose to enroll.  The higher this number, the better for most schools, and one sign of a student who is likely to enroll is if he visited the college.   

And what if your intended college is all the way across the country?  Call the admissions office and ask if one of their counselors is planning to visit a large city near you.  Chances are they will be sending someone to a city within a couple of hours from your home, either to a college fair or a series of high school visits.  Ask if you can meet them at a coffee shop or restaurant to learn more about their college.  Nothing shows interest more than taking the initiative to seek out a college admissions counselor who is across the country!

Real estate agents say “Location, location, location.”  College admissions consultants like yours truly say, “Visit, visit visit!”

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