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Students, parents should do research before campus visits

While we all recognize that the college admissions process is dramatically different today than it was just a generation ago, little has changed more than the campus visit.

In the old days, for many students, freshmen move-in day was the first time they saw what was to be their new home for the next four years. Some families did hit the road and visit a variety of campuses, but the process was far more informal, usually including a tour and a one-on-one interview with the director of admissions.

Today's official campus visit is a well-oiled public relations machine; it consists of an information session, frequently introduced by a well-produced video, followed by a presentation by an admissions staff person that discusses admissions statistics, academic options and extracurricular activities. The campus tour led by a well-trained student ambassador can be done before or after the information session.

What else has changed?

The online resources to help you plan your visits are adding features all the time. Here are a couple of my favorites:

* offers a free trip planner once you register. The planner helps you choose the schools that you want to visit by using keywords or typing in specific colleges. As you add more schools to your list, the site will help you plan your visit (flights, trains, driving directions, etc.). Goseecampus streamlines the coordination of the sequence of campus visits, which is usually the most tedious task because you need to know specific campus visit times as well as allowing time to grab a meal and drive to the next campus. Additionally, once you've settled in on your plan of attack there are sample itineraries, restaurant recommendations, specific parking instructions, campus maps and event calendars so you can find out about what's going on on and off campus during your visit. The best part is that your itinerary is saved and you can update it and print it out to take with you. It is basically having a personalized travel agent, for free.

* has created a database with thousands of virtual campus tours and interactive college maps. It is simple to use and is a great way to get a sneak peek into a variety of college campuses quickly, easily and inexpensively. You type in the name of the college on its homepage and up pops a great fact sheet with tuition and enrollment stats as well as several options: tour, website, map, video and even an option to apply online (too late for this year).

*Another tip:-- If the college offers separate information sessions for students and parents, it makes sense to split up. There are a few reasons, not the least of which is that you eliminate the opportunity to embarrass your child with "silly" questions. But mostly the benefit is for the students to have the chance to interact more with current students leading the sessions and listen to questions from other applicants.


Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;