It's that time of year when high school students, especially juniors, are busy talking to their peers about visiting colleges. As college counselors, we advise the families we work with to take some deep breaths and consider these suggestions for making your child's college search process more successful:
1. Visit Colleges of Interest: One of the most effective ways for your child to determine if he or she can see themselves going to a particular college is by actually stepping foot on campus. You and your child should attend the information session and campus tour at as many schools as is practical. These visits usually will give your child a feel for the personality of the college and whether it resonates with him or her. And don’t despair if you visit a school and your child doesn’t like it at all. It's just as important for a student to know what he or she likes as it is to know what your child does not want in a college.
2. Before your visit, have your child sign up for the information session and campus tour on the college’s website. Don't think you can just show up. Most colleges require a sign up and you want your child's name to be seen by the admissions office as having visited. Many schools track this information as part of assessing a student’s "demonstrated interest” in the school.
3. Encourage your child to take notes and photos on his or her phone. As your child visits multiple colleges, the images and feeling of each school will begin to run together. The notes and photos will help your child remember what he or she does and doesn't like about each school. Additionally, when it comes time for your child to apply in senior year of high school, many colleges have a supplemental essay question which relates to why the applicant wants to attend that school. The notes and photos taken on the campus visit can be invaluable to helping your child write a compelling, authentic essay about his or her interest in the school.
4. Lastly, encourage your child to get the business card of the admissions officer giving the information session. After the campus visit, your child should send a follow up thank you note to the admissions officer and, in that note, your child should be specific as to why he or she wants to attend. Even better, have your child include in that note how he or she will contribute to the campus if admitted. Depending on the college, this can help your child when it comes time to apply, and sending a thank you note is good practice and common courtesy.