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Countdown to College: Better campus visits

It’s a rite of spring – the spring break campus visit pilgrimage. If you are finding yourself in the throes of scheduling college visits, count yourself among the many doing the same thing.

When organizing your visits, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that you don’t need to talk to anyone to make plans. Unlike the old days when you actually called a college admissions office, spoke with a person and scheduled a visit, that is no longer the case. Now, 100 percent of trip planning can be done online at each college website.

Some thoughts to keep in mind once you are on campus:

1. Make sure they know you’re there. Establish some contact with the admissions office because many colleges, though not all, track your level of interest in their school and the campus visit is one of the most important factors that is tracked.

2. Divide and conquer. Parents should separate and let their child go with a different tour guide. A child may take the visit a little more seriously when parents are not around, may ask his or her own questions, and you’ll have a good conversation comparing your two tours.

3. Get lost! Wander on your own and explore what makes each college unique. Go beyond the standard visit. My mantra is: “It is worth more than two hours of your time if you might be spending four years of your life there.” If the college is worthy of your visit, then dedicate sufficient time to tour the area around the campus, sit in on a class, have a meal in the dining hall, visit buildings and areas that weren’t on the formal campus tour, etc.

4. Ask good questions. Better yet, don’t ask “stupid” questions that can be answered by doing basic research, such as “Do you require four years of a foreign language?” or “What are your middle-50 percent SAT scores?”

Some “good” questions might include: How many students work on research projects with faculty? What types of honors courses, learning communities and other distinctive programs are offered?

5. Carve out time to meet with current students. If you don’t have any connection with students at the school, then head to the dining hall. Be bold and walk up to a table of students, tell them you’re touring colleges and have a few questions. I’ve never had a student turned away at any school.

College kids are usually thrilled to talk with prospective students and they will typically be unabashedly honest. Start with some basic questions: “Are you happy here? Why? Why not?” “How interesting are your classes/professors?” “How accessible and responsive are your professors?” “Is this college worth the price you pay?”

You will likely learn more in that 10-minute interchange with a group of current students than during the information session or the tours.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at

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