fbpx
What is a Liberal Arts College? Plus, Myths Debunked!

What is a Liberal Arts College? Plus, Myths Debunked!

What is a liberal arts college?

A liberal arts college looks and feels different from other types of colleges and universities, such as your large state universities or community colleges. That’s because it is different — they emphasize smaller classes, a large curriculum that spans the classics and developing students to become versatile in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. 

For example, this could mean that a liberal arts grad can slip nimbly from discussing a project with a group to writing a blog post for a company website. Liberal arts students are equipped to do a wide range of tasks because of the adaptable nature of their education, including problem solving.

But what is a liberal arts college, exactly? What do you “get” with a liberal arts education, and is it the right fit for your child? As a graduate of a liberal arts college, I can tell you a few things about a liberal arts college experience, so let’s dig in.

What Does Liberal Arts Mean?

The term “liberal arts” is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with being liberal in the political sense — and it doesn’t refer exclusively to the arts, either. It’s not “liberal studies,” either.

To understand the “What is a liberal arts college definition,” you’ll need to reach back to its Latin roots to understand where the term “liberal arts” sprouts. The Latin word “liberalis” means “appropriate for free men” — it was the kind of education preferred by free citizens of ancient Greece and Rome. 

You’ll still find that these key concepts make up a liberal arts education today:

  • Liberal arts colleges develop the whole person to his fullest potential — including mind, body and spirit. 
  • Liberal arts colleges still focus on grammar, rhetoric and logic — or excellent communication, writing and critical thinking skills, so students develop a deep understanding of various disciplines. 

Scoot into any liberal arts college classroom on a college visit and you’ll see evidence of the Socratic method, named after the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. He used a question-and-dialogue format that stimulated rhetoric, critical thinking and discussion. You’ll see lots of interaction and debate in a liberal arts setting. This is markedly different from a large public university, where lectures form the primary teaching tool.

Harvard College was the first liberal arts college in the U.S., and hundreds of liberal arts colleges have sprung up since Harvard’s debut in 1636. Many are small colleges affiliated with a particular religion. 

Here’s a list of a few well-known liberal arts colleges in the United States:

  1. Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts)
  2. Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts)
  3. Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania)
  4. Pomona College (Claremont, California)
  5. Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vermont)
  6. Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)
  7. Wellesley College (Wellesley, Massachusetts)
  8. Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota)
  9. Haverford College (Haverford, Pennsylvania)
  10. Davidson College (Davidson, North Carolina)

What is a Liberal Arts Degree?

What is a private liberal arts college degree? Obviously, a liberal arts degree is the type of degree you receive from a liberal arts college. Most liberal arts degree program holders receive either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in majors like English, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology and more.

In short, liberal arts degree holders show that they’ve successfully completed a wide mix of courses, meaning they’ve completed a comprehensive foundation of knowledge and skills rather than focusing on specialized or vocational training.

Liberal arts grads can proudly say, “Hey, I took a lot of classes in literature, philosophy, history, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences and the arts, with a huge emphasis on critical thinking, so I offer a ton of transferable skills.”

Distinctive Features of Liberal Arts Colleges

What’s it look like on the inside? 

  • Small classes: Don’t be surprised to find just 20 students in a liberal arts classroom. It’s one of the key characteristics of liberal arts colleges. These intimate learning environments allow for heavy student-professor interaction, a personalized approach to education, in-depth discussions, interactive learning experiences, tailored group work and a close-knit community. 
  • Subjects across various disciplines: Liberal arts colleges typically offer a diverse range of subjects with the goal of achieving a well-rounded education that spans the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts. Typical liberal arts colleges teach subjects like English literature and composition, history, philosophy, religion, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science), foreign languages, fine arts and critical thinking and writing and creative writing seminars.
  • Accessible professors: Zero teaching assistants means that professors focus on an undergraduate education, rather than a full focus on research and graduate education.
  • Student development: Developing intellectually curious students who can navigate the workforce, doing a wide variety of things for their employers, from giving a speech to writing an email. The tenets of this type of development include:
  • Interdisciplinary approach: A holistic approach to education, your child will understand a subject from all angles — a sociological perspective, a biological perspective, a religious perspective — because liberal arts encourages knowledge integration from various disciplines. Imagine examining complex issues to create that kind of skill set! It’s remarkable, really.
  • Critical thinking: I can’t emphasize the importance of critical thinking skills. Students must think critically and approach problems and problem solving innovatively. Faculty will say to your child, “And what would that do for the world? And what would that do for the world? And that?” Take it from me, you do graduate thinking you can be a superhero or something.
  • Communication: Your child’s not getting out of a liberal arts college without giving a million speeches, writing a zillion essays or working on interpersonal skills — it is a hallmark of a liberal arts education.
  • Creativity: The intimate learning environment allows for an abundance of creative expression and opportunities to think of new ideas and apply them. Questioning assumptions and approaching problems from multiple perspectives? Just a day in the life of a liberal arts student to prepare for the complex modern world out there.

What is a Liberal Arts College vs University?

Liberal arts colleges and universities offer completely different educational philosophies, structures and the types of academic programs.

Liberal Arts CollegesUniversities
FocusBroad, well-rounded education that spans the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts.Wide range of academic programs, including undergraduate and graduate degrees in various disciplines. Often have specialized schools or colleges, such as a college of engineering, business or arts and sciences.
SizeIn addition to class sizes, they are typically smaller in all senses of the word — student population and campus size.Generally larger institutions with a more diverse student body and faculty. Student-faculty ratios are almost always higher than those at liberal arts colleges.
TeachingProfessors prioritize teaching over research at liberal arts colleges, leading many students to develop lifelong connections with their professors.Often prioritize both teaching and research. Professors must conduct research in addition to teaching; universities may have extensive research facilities and resources.
DegreesOffer undergraduate degrees, though some might offer a limited number of graduate degrees.Full spectrum of degree levels, from associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in fields such as law, medicine and business.
Education typeRobust general education curriculum for a well-rounded educational experience with exposure to many courses in many subject areas.Offer specialized colleges or schools focused on specific disciplines. For example, a university may have a college of engineering, a school of medicine or a business school.

Here’s something confusing: Many people wonder whether a private university or a university can be a liberal arts college. A private university can have a liberal arts college or offer liberal arts programs within its curriculum, and actually, so can a large university.

That’s why the term “liberal arts curriculum” can seem so confusing, because many universities often claim to offer liberal arts classes within their structure, emphasized by titles like “College of Arts and Sciences.” 

However, this is a bit of a misconception even though students can pursue degrees in disciplines such as English, philosophy, history, mathematics and the sciences, because they are still within the confines of a larger university. Ultimately, it is not a liberal arts college unless it embraces an institution-wide commitment to offering a comprehensive and well-rounded education with specific tenets unique to liberal arts colleges. Liberal arts majors are not the same as attending a liberal arts college.

What is a Liberal Arts College vs Community College?

Now, what exactly is the difference between a liberal arts college and a community college? Let’s take a quick look.

Liberal Arts CollegesCommunity Colleges
FocusBroad and well-rounded education that spans the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts to build on a foundation of knowledge and skillsFocus on vocational or technical programs with general education requirements; focuses on accessibility and affordability
Degree offeringsPrimarily offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees, with an emphasis on undergraduate educationTypically offer two-year associate’s degrees and certificate program for entry-level jobs or as a foundation for education at a four-year institution; many have transfer programs with universities
SizeTypically smaller populations than community colleges, including smaller faculty-to-student ratiosTend to have larger student populations and may be more diverse in terms of age, background and academic goals
Teaching emphasisPrioritizes teaching over researchProfessors prioritize teaching and may be professionals in the area
CostTypically higher cost compared to community colleges; learn more about the ways to get college paid forOpen admission policies make it an affordable option for those seeking career training, personal enrichment or a jumping-off point for transferring

What is a Liberal Arts College vs. Technical College?

Let’s review the differences between liberal arts colleges and technical colleges for a final comparison between common institution types.

Liberal Arts CollegesTechnical Colleges
FocusBroad and well-rounded education that spans the humanities, social sciences and social services, natural sciences and the arts, with the goal of offering students a comprehensive foundation of knowledge and skillsPractical, hands-on training in trades or other professions to prepare for specific careers or industries
Degree offeringsPrimarily offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees, with an emphasis on undergraduate educationCertificate programs, diplomas and associate’s degrees
CurriculumVariety of subjectsTailored to the needs of specific industries or professions
Career preparationAims to develop transferable skills, critical thinking and broad knowledge base and not direct vocational or technical trainingPrepares students for specific careers and in demand skills, such as nursing, computer technology, automotive repair or skilled trades
CostOpen admission policies, making education accessible

What Can You Do with a Liberal Arts Degree?

The parents’ absolute first question, right? “What can my child do with this degree?”

So relevant and important, and here’s the answer: Absolutely anything!

Some liberal arts graduates pursue careers directly related to their major, others may enter fields such as business, law, education, journalism or public service.

A liberal arts degree provides a range of skills that fit well with various fields. Unlike going to school for something specific — like a nursing degree, and becoming a nurse after college — it offers more specialized degrees, it can open doors to diverse career paths. Here are some common career options for individuals with a liberal arts degree:

  • Education: Many liberal arts graduates pursue careers in education, becoming teachers at the elementary, secondary or postsecondary levels.
  • Writing: Strong communication skills acquired in a liberal arts program make graduates well-suited for careers in writing, journalism, editing and publishing.
  • Business: Liberal arts graduates often enter business roles such as marketing, human resources, management and consulting. Their analytical and communication skills are valuable in these fields.
  • Law and public policy: Some liberal arts majors choose to pursue law degrees and work as attorneys or legal professionals, though traditionally, most liberal arts colleges do not offer law degrees. Your child will likely have to attend law school elsewhere after graduation from a liberal arts college.
  • Nonprofit and advocacy work: With a passion for social issues, liberal arts graduates may find meaningful work in nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups and community development.
  • Public relations and communication: Effective communication, taught in liberal arts colleges, offer excellent routes for those in public relations, corporate communication and media relations.
  • Health care: Graduates with strong organizational and communication skills may find opportunities in healthcare administration, managing healthcare facilities or working as a physician.
  • Technology and IT consulting: Analytical and problem-solving skills acquired in a liberal arts education can be beneficial in technology-related roles, especially in areas like IT consulting and project management.
  • Entrepreneurship: Liberal arts graduates often possess creativity and critical thinking, making them well-suited for entrepreneurial ventures.
  • Government and public service: Careers in government agencies, diplomacy and public service are common for liberal arts graduates interested in contributing to society.

Graduates may also choose to pursue advanced degrees in fields like law, medicine, business or public policy to further specialize their skills. Many employers prefer the transferable skills acquired through a liberal arts education, such as critical thinking, communication and adaptability.  

And yes, your child can major in art history or the creative arts and still become a surgeon! Remember, the versatility of a liberal arts degree allows individuals to navigate a variety of career paths based on their interests and goals.

What can you do with a liberal arts degree list

Can You Get a Good Job with a Liberal Arts Degree?

I’ve analyzed a lot about higher education, and here’s a headline that drives me absolutely batty: Liberal arts degrees: You can’t get a job with one in this day and age.

You’ll find successful liberal arts graduates at any company, in any field, during any point in history. Here are just a few notably successful people who graduated from liberal arts colleges: 

  • Laura Hillenbrand: The author of “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken,” attended Kenyon College in Ohio.
  • Anna Quindlen: The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist attended Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia University.
  • Scott Adams: The creator of the comic strip “Dilbert” graduated from Hartwick College, a small liberal arts college in New York.
  • Stephen Colbert: The Emmy Award-winning comedian and host of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, a men’s liberal arts college in Virginia.

Because liberal arts degrees focus on excellent communication, writing and critical thinking skills and can offer a competitive advantage to large university graduates who often don’t get the same opportunities. Employers notice these “soft skills!”

Debunking Myths: Common Misconceptions about Liberal Arts Colleges 

This is my favorite discussion with anyone who doesn’t understand the liberal arts approach: Mythbusting! 

1. The liberal arts are not practical or applicable to real-world scenarios. 

It’s actually the reverse. The liberal arts prepares students for more real-world scenarios because liberal arts colleges train them for today’s world by equipping them to examine every area of an issue.

2. Liberal arts colleges only offer arts and humanities degrees. 

Au contraire, mon frère. Liberal arts colleges do offer arts and humanities majors, but they also offer degrees from the sciences and a large number of other fields. Your child becomes well-rounded in more than just the arts. Can your child become a surgeon after attending a liberal arts college? Absolutely. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are heavily represented.

3. Graduates of liberal arts colleges have limited career options. 

Liberal arts graduates can adapt to any profession. You’ll find liberal arts graduates in all sorts of fields and positions of power. Look at Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, who earned a B.A. in English literature and theater from Denison University.

4. Liberal arts colleges are small and restrictive. 

Yes, they are generally smaller, but the smaller size fosters creative thinking and close interactions with mentors in diverse academic programs. “Small” doesn’t imply “limited.”

Furthermore, many liberal arts colleges also have a vast alumni network. Colleges leverage massive alumni networks to provide mentorship, networking opportunities and support for current students’ career development.

5. A liberal arts education is not practical or job-oriented. 

Not true. In fact, the workforce values outside-the-box thinkers who can communicate (that are good at public speaking!) and value adaptability. Liberal arts graduates have been highly praised for their skills in a wide variety of professions, from business to health care.

6. Liberal arts colleges are only for the elite and rich. 

Some liberal arts colleges offer only selective admission, but many have diverse populations for inclusive education. Liberal arts colleges can also cost less than universities due to their generous financial aid award packages and emphasis on helping students attend.

Many liberal arts colleges are also exploring innovative financial models, such as income-share agreements (ISAs) and creative tuition approaches to address concerns about affordability and student debt.

7. Liberal arts colleges are less rigorous than universities.

Far from the “glorified high school experience,” liberal arts colleges have rigorous academic programs and high expectations for student performance. Many liberal arts colleges offer a challenging, Ivy League-level educational experience (and others offer less rigorous classes, too, of course).

8. Liberal arts colleges are irrelevant in the tech age.

The last time I attended a talk by the president of my alma mater, he spoke about how students could navigate AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). Liberal arts students can adapt to anything, including technology. Ultimately, the world needs graduates with strong communication and critical thinking skills in every field. 

Furthermore, liberal arts colleges will continue to integrate technology through digital resources and technology-enabled learning platforms to enhance accessibility and flexibility for students.

9. Liberal arts colleges are not diverse.

While some liberal arts colleges may not have large, diverse student populations, colleges are always teaching diversity and global perspectives. They often encourage a global perspective through international programs (also known as “study abroad”), cultural diversity and language studies within the liberal arts curriculum. Exposure to diverse perspectives prepares students for a globalized world.

The Future of Liberal Arts Colleges: Trends and Innovations 

What’s the future of liberal arts colleges? Glad you asked! 

Liberal arts colleges are adapting to the changing landscape of higher education in several ways to remain relevant and meet the evolving needs of students and the workforce by: 

  • Technology integration: Incorporating technology into their curricula to learn to solve problems using tech
  • Interdisciplinary programs: Developing interdisciplinary programs that allow students to explore connections between different fields of study
  • Experiential learning: Emphasizing experiential learning (internships, research projects and community engagement)
  • Global perspectives: Incorporating global perspectives into their curricula (study abroad programs, international collaborations and courses that explore global issues)
  • Career and professional development: Enhancing career services and professional development programs, even volunteer work!
  • Flexibility: Offering more flexible degree programs, including part-time options, online courses and hybrid models to cater to the diverse needs of students
  • Emphasizing creating inclusive and diverse communities, including initiatives to increase representation, support for underrepresented groups, etc.
  • Collaborations with businesses, industries and other higher education institutions 
Choosing the Right Liberal Arts College

Colleges and universities can offer so many options, it’s dizzying! However, liberal arts schools may offer the right mix of degree programs, undergraduate education key skills, broad education, collaboration — a special mix for the right type of student.

Are liberal arts colleges right for everyone? 

Absolutely not. Attending a liberal arts college only makes sense for the right student, depending on their career goals, goals for personal growth, emphasis on intellectual curiosity and general knowledge, creative problem solving and more.

That’s why it’s vitally important to consider a wide variety of factors when deciding whether a liberal arts education fits your student or not. If your student values out-of-the-box thinking, small, challenging classes that dare them to think critically, a liberal arts education might be a good fit. 

Schedule a college visit and meeting with faculty, learning the campus culture and checking out all available resources and options can help you and your student decide whether the liberal arts is a good fit. Ultimately, a campus visit can help assess whether a particular liberal arts college fits their academic interests, personal goals and overall expectations for a college experience.

Learn more: Are college campus virtual tours worth it?

Are College Campus Virtual Tours Worth it?

Are College Campus Virtual Tours Worth it?

You’re crazy busy. You barely keep up with work, laundry, grocery shopping and caring for the kids. Sound familiar?

You simply don’t have time to go on college visits with your high schooler, and (admit it!) you’re a teensy bit excited that college campus virtual tours exist because you don’t have to climb in the car, book a hotel room, board the dog (or your other kids). You don’t have to ask your boss for time off.

But are virtual college tours the right way to go? Virtual college campus tours allow you to view a campus online and offer ways to approach the college search process differently. When you live in an age where technology can help you and your child explore potential college campuses, should you do it? 

The answer: Virtual school tours are worth it — when utilized correctly. Virtual tour college visits, also called virtual reality college campus tours or online college tours, can offer a first glimpse of campus. We’ll walk through what happens in a virtual campus tour, the role of college campus virtual tours, why you may want to consider one, limitations and more.

What is a Virtual College Tour?

A virtual campus tour is a digital representation of a college or university campus that allows you to explore the institution from the comfort of your own home (in your fuzzy slippers). 

This online experience allows you to view: 

  • Campus facilities
  • Key landmarks
  • Academic buildings
  • Recreational areas
  • Other important aspects of campus life

Virtual campus tours might involve several types of immersive and interactive exploration, such as 360-degree views of campus. Some colleges use virtual reality (VR) technology to offer an immersive experience, so tours feel lifelike and three-dimensional. VR technology might be compatible with virtual reality headsets, which add high-resolution visuals with audio elements and guided narration. Clickable hotspots and live chat engage users, offering personalized exploration. 

You may also hear narrated descriptions or read written narrations to provide context for the visit. For example, a student or an admission representative might narrate the virtual tour. 

They might also include:

  • Interactive maps: Digital maps can help you navigate the virtual tour and locate campus buildings, landmarks and facilities. You can click on map markers to access additional information about each location.
  • Informational hotspots: Informational hotspots refer to interactive elements within the tour to access detailed information about specific areas, programs or services a college offers. 
  • Embedded videos: Short videos showcase featured departments, classrooms, laboratories or extracurricular spaces to help bring life to the tour. 

A virtual college tour may be part of a larger virtual campus tour, offering more options. For example, the full campus visit may offer informational videos through prerecorded or real-time virtual events, live webinars and Q&A sessions to allow your student to ask questions and other resources. This post focuses on virtual college tours as a smaller portion of campus visits. (Trust me, Harvard’s virtual tour will blow you away.)

The Role of Virtual Tours

Ideally, virtual tours serve a role as an information collector. However, virtual tours can contribute to informed decision-making because they offer context and color about a college. Virtual visits can help your student decide where to apply. If they don’t like the looks of the campus on the virtual tour, they may have an easy application decision.

Always keep the role of virtual tours in the forefront of your mind — it shouldn’t replace a physical campus tour unless you can’t get around it. The role of a virtual tour includes: 

  • Visualization: Virtual tours offer a realistic visual representation of the environment, showcasing key features, facilities and surroundings.
  • Information dissemination: Virtual tours involve giving information: descriptions, facts and multimedia content.
  • Supplement physical visits: A virtual tour of colleges supplements traditional physical visits by providing a preview or follow-up experience to give you a peek into the window of the college or university.

Why Consider a Virtual College Tour?

You and your prospective student may want to consider virtual campus tours for various reasons: 

  • Geographical constraints: If you cannot physically travel to a college campus due to geographical distance, financial constraints or other logistical reasons, a virtual campus tour offers a convenient and accessible alternative. (Double emphasis on convenience!)
  • Time and cost savings: Virtual tours eliminate the need for travel expenses, hotel costs and the time it takes to visit multiple colleges. If you live in New York and your child is considering a college in California, for example, or overseas, a virtual college tour might offer a great alternative to an in-person visit. Few things in life are free, but free virtual college tours save you money.
  • Tool for narrowing down decisions: Virtual tours can be revisited multiple times, allowing you to review and compare different aspects of various campuses. This is especially helpful when making decisions or narrowing down your choices.
  • Supplement research: A virtual tour can complement other research methods, including brochures, information sessions and online forums. It provides a visual and interactive element to enhance your child’s view of an institution and might go beyond what you see in a brochure or website.
  • Flexibility: You can access a tour at any time, day or night, at your own pace — it’s a great option if you have to leave for a soccer tournament, have a birthday party to go to or another important event.
  • Pre-visit exploration: A virtual campus tour can offer an initial step in exploring a college. Before committing to an in-person visit, it allows your child to familiarize themselves with the campus layout, facilities and overall atmosphere.
  • Access to more areas: Some virtual tours give access to areas that may be restricted during in-person visits. For example, your child may get to see laboratories, research facilities, or other spaces your family may not see on tour.
  • No rain or snow: College virtual tours are always sunny! You don’t have to worry about rain, snow or hail; better yet, you don’t have to drive in bad weather conditions.
Why consider virtual tours? Here are the reasons.

Limitations of Virtual Campus Tours

As you likely know, you’ll encounter a few downsides of a virtual tour, and the most obvious is that you don’t have feet on campus to see everything with your own eyes. A few other potential drawbacks include the following:

  • Difficulties assessing campus culture: It’s difficult to assess the campus culture when you don’t “feel out” a campus yourself. Therefore, you won’t get a general sense of the values, traditions, behaviors and social norms that characterize the atmosphere and community life on a college or university campus. 
  • Fewer people to talk to: Virtual tours don’t allow you to talk to people because it’s all online. Therefore, you can’t grill the tour guide, talk with an admission counselor, a financial aid professional, coaches or other individuals. Your questions might not get answered.
  • Only shows the “good” side: Virtual tours only show the best a campus offers. (Do you think they’ll show you a dungeon-like residence hall?) No way! Keep an open mind because they’ll only show you the pristine parts of campus.
  • Tough to get perspective: You can’t see the giant ceilings in the chapel or hear the echoey reverb in a huge lecture hall. You also won’t feel the chill in the air or the leaves crunch underfoot.
  • Won’t see many students: Most virtual tours exclude crowds of students. Virtual tours clear everyone out, so the tour guide is center stage. Students won’t hurry to class or sit in the lounge areas.

Ideally, a virtual tour will show a real tour guide giving an actual campus tour. 

There are limitations of virtual tours, including the following listed.

How to Do Virtual Tours Well

How do you do virtual tours besides clicking on the “take a virtual tour for students” on the admission webpage? That’s exactly what your student can do, and they can navigate different parts of the campus by clicking different areas. 

Navigate through campus maps, view dorms, classrooms and facilities. Watch videos showcasing campus life and listen to student testimonials. Attend online information sessions and webinars — whatever piques your student’s interests.

Personalization and Customization in Virtual Tours

Did you know that colleges can work with you to customize and personalize virtual tours? You might have to go the extra step to ask for personalized tour guides and live interactions. College websites explain how you can take a virtual visit, but you might have to call and arrange other, more personalized engagements through Zoom, Google Meet or hop on the phone. Check out a list of other individuals you may want to consider meeting with.

Meet with Admission Counselors

For example, you may want to meet with an admission counselor on Zoom, who gives out trade secrets, the dirt — everything you want to know about a college. 

Your virtual tour may not coincide with a counselor talk. You and your child may take the virtual tour on Monday, then talk with an admission counselor on Thursday. Scheduling it later gives you a chance to think of great questions you have after watching the tour. 

You can find your child’s admission counselor online, under the admission tab on the college’s website. 

Meet with Financial Aid Professionals

Consider scheduling a visit with a financial aid professional as well. Don’t let a generic video from a virtual visit be your only guide to financial aid from a particular school. You and your child deserve better than that! 

If financial aid is part of a larger online visit, watch it. Then call the college or university to explore how the financial aid process works for your situation. You can get a lot accomplished during one financial aid phone call. You get to ask questions that pertain directly to your situation.

Talk with Current Students

As part of the virtual tour, many colleges include videos of students talking about themselves, their majors and extracurricular activities. Listen to these online videos. Then remember it’s all a marketing ploy. 

I know that’s a cynical attitude, but remember that colleges usually pick their most accomplished, affable students to video. This isn’t always a great representation of the student body. 

Do you know someone who already attends the college your child’s considering? Encourage your child to set up a coffee or Zoom meeting with the student. It’s the best way to get the most candid analysis — students will likely blurt out the pros and cons without prompting. 

Remind your child that information from one person is just that — one person’s experience. If your child can talk to more than one person at the college, that’s great! The more feedback from a large number of students your high schooler can get, the better.

Just because one student’s having an awesome or crummy experience doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone else.

Find Other Ways to Learn More

You want to get as snoopy as possible when you’re looking at colleges, so here are some other ways to do it.

Follow Colleges’ Social Channels

Follow schools your child’s interested in on Instagram, X and YouTube to get brief updates on activities on campus. Try to find social channels not connected to the admission or marketing offices! 

Check out the College’s Online Events Calendar

Colleges often host various events, from musical artists and comedians to free movies and game nights. Seeing a calendar of events can give you a better understanding of the fun activities available to students. 

Research the Surrounding Town

Have you ever heard of a phenomenon called the “campus bubble?” I referred to it sometimes when talking to students. It’s when students become insulated from the town and never leave campus because everything they need is there. The town kind of vanishes and the campus becomes their town.

Still, your child might have to venture to Target every once in a while. So, what’s the town or city like? Do some online research and learn about the benefits outside The Bubble.

Tips for Maximizing the Virtual College Tour Experience

Here’s how to make the most of virtual tours:

  • Interact with as many people as possible. From tour guides to students, there are opportunities for interaction beyond college tours videos. Some virtual tours may offer that, and again, you may have to set those up independent of college or university virtual tours on a website.
  • Give feedback. For virtual tours colleges want to be able to offer the most comprehensive experience possible. Consider giving feedback on how colleges can refine virtual tours based on your experience.
  • Balance virtual and in-person college exploration. Combine virtual college visits with traditional in-person visits. A hybrid approach can provide a comprehensive understanding of a college. Experiencing campus life virtually and physically can give you “Aha” moments once you get on campus.

Also consider combining virtual college tours with informational interviews, online forums and other research methods. While not a full substitute for physical visits, virtual tours can play a pivotal role in providing semi-authentic glimpses into campus life for prospective students.

Yes — kick your feet up, coffee cup in hand, messy bun proudly displayed while you take a campus tour. “Ooo” and “Ahh” over beautiful residence halls, cool science labs and more. 

Just remember, nothing replaces a true college tour. If your child thinks he can choose a college based on virtual college tours, remind him that: 

  • People make a great college experience, not beautiful buildings.
  • Campuses show all their best stuff in a video. The junior/senior apartments might be beautiful (they’ll show these on video) but the freshman residence hall could be a pit. 
  • Talking to as many people as possible is important — get comfy with Zoom!

Don’t forget to visit in person for the full immersive experience. 

The Ultimate Guide to College Visits: What You Need to Know

The Ultimate Guide to College Visits: What You Need to Know

As a parent, college visits can seem like the most complex undertaking in your child’s high school experience to date. What schools should you visit? What questions should you ask? What do you make of all those dollar signs on the financial aid guide? (Oh yeah, that’s a biggie.)

College visits vary so much, and that’s the cool thing about each. You can get a real sense of what a particular college or university “feels like,” which is pretty intangible. Even so, it can make or break the college tour experience.

We’ll shed light on all this while focusing on effective planning, what to do on campus tours, the questions to ask, what school to tour next — everything. We’re going to go beyond the standard advice so you get the most comprehensive practical tips ever.  

Why Are College Visits Important? 

I spent 12 years working in college admission, and I can tell you the most important reason to visit colleges: It gives you and your child (both of you — that’s important!) a chance to understand the campus culture. Getting physically on campus allows you to immerse yourself in the community so you can: 

  • Learn about student life.
  • “Feel” the atmosphere.
  • Gain authentic insights into the community. 

Imagine visiting a college on a Friday and watching everyone pack up to go home for the weekend — that sure tells you a lot about a campus, huh? Or, what if you and your student notice a palpable energy on campus preceding the weekend? That can tell you so much about student priorities. 

Two totally different experiences can give you and your child an idea of what to expect, and the only way you can learn is to get your feet on campus. Even if you’ve gotten the glossy literature in the mail or noticed the gorgeous academic facilities online, it’s time to see if it all matches up. 

You might be tempted to do virtual college tours and check that college off the list, but resist that impulse. There’s nothing like getting boots on campus to really understand what a campus looks like and feels like, which your child can’t get from gluing themselves to a computer screen. 

Types of College Visits

Did you know that there are different types of college visits? 

  • Personal campus visits: Whether you visit a liberal arts college or a community college, personal campus visits offer the most individualized visit opportunity. Your student will most likely get to do everything they want to do while on campus because when you schedule it, you tailor it to your students’ interests.
  • Group campus visits: Group campus visits, just like they sound, offer an opportunity for students to visit campus and be part of a group. While they don’t offer the personalization that a personal campus visit does, you might be able to score a few separate individual appointments at the end of the day.
    • Academic visit days: If your child knows they want to major in a particular academic area, you can attend an academic visit day, giving your child general knowledge about academics. You’ll likely get to do a group tour.
    • Athletic visit days: Some colleges offer athlete preview days, where athletes converge on campus and visit with other prospective athletes and coaches.
    • Individual interest visit days: Music visit days, theater visit days, etc. — the list goes on. Colleges try to offer showcases of different programs to attract students to visit.
Image listing the different types of campus visits: group and individual visits

What Happens During College Visits?

Before you even set foot on campuses, you must schedule college visits — learn how to get an official visit to a college. I’ve detailed exactly how to do that in the linked post. There are two main ways to schedule visits — by calling the admission office or visiting the college online and clicking “schedule a visit” under the admission tab. There’s more to think about than simply filling out a form, so check out the post on how to plan college visits.

Once you schedule your college visit, the next logical steps include getting there, parking on campus, finding the admission office, and then getting your visit underway.

Getting There

First, you have to get to campus. Make your travel arrangements in advance so you can be sure everything aligns. Check with area hotels about discounts for students visiting — some will offer those. Getting to colleges might be as simple as driving two hours from home, while others require a flight and rental car.

Sometimes, colleges will offer vouchers to reimburse travel. For example, as an admission employee, I was authorized to reimburse a portion of a visitor’s travel expenses, such as a plane ticket or gas receipts. You may also qualify for a free college visit if you’re a low-income household. Ask the admission office for more information.

Parking on Campus

Your scheduling information should contain information about parking on campus. Whether you receive information via snail mail, text or email (or all of these!), it should give you explicit instructions about where to park. 

Colleges and universities notoriously have terrible, crowded parking, but the admission office should have spots ready for you. They might even put your name on a spot if they’re on their A-game! That was one of the most popular things our admission office did for families. Talk about rolling out the red carpet!

Learn more: Are College Tours Free? 

Where should you park on campus? Image of a parking lot

Finding the Admission Office

You should receive a map in your confirmation materials., which may come via email, snail mail, text message and more.

Once you find the admission office, you should see a reception area or desk. Have your student check in right away — they should be expecting you. They may ask if you want coffee or water and direct you to the restrooms. They may invite you to sit in the office to wait for your first appointment, especially if you arrive early. Check out the comfy couches and take a look around!

As the admission office is the college’s front door, this is a great time to start evaluating the college. Ask yourself:

  • Is the staff friendly and accommodating?
  • Did someone greet you right away?
  • If you had to wait, did other people greet you, stop, smile and sit down to chat?
  • Did you meet your child’s admission counselor right away? (Remember that they may be on the road and unable to meet with you.)
  • Did someone go over your child’s schedule with you immediately?

Sitting in the admission office can give you a sense of the place right off the bat — you’ve heard the expression that it’s hard to overcome a first impression and hold them to it.

Connecting with Admission Counselors or Representatives

Your child has an admission counselor at every single school. Here’s how it works: Admission offices divide the country into different areas, meaning that one counselor takes care of a territory. These professionals have “their” group of students that they usher through the admission process. 

Ensure that you meet with an admission or admissions counselor at a college or university, even if you don’t meet with your child’s admissions counselor. Though we do so much online these days, it’s important to maintain face-to-face communication with your child’s admission counselor. It can even alleviate your child’s nervousness to see a familiar face, particularly if your child has already met this individual, such as at a college fair or high school.

Try to meet with an admission counselor individually during your visit. When you meet with admission counselors, you’ll learn about the application process, scholarship opportunities and information about your child’s chosen program. Getting to know this person can set you apart from other candidates — face it, an edge means everything in this competitive admission process!

A quick note on meeting with admission counselors: No question is dumb, and encourage your student to have questions in mind. Students often clam up because they don’t know what to ask. Admissions counselors don’t know everything, but they should find it out for you — that’s their job. They’re like shepherds, rounding up your questions and delivering results.

Read more: 202 Powerful Questions to Ask on a College Tour 

Image of meeting admission counselors on campus

Going on a Campus Tour

Folks, this is the shining, blazing star of the college visit experience. You get to walk around and see the campus with your own eyes. Watching students on campus tours is fun because you can see them light up when they see particular parts of the campus that speak to them.

How long are college tours? Campus tours usually last one hour from start to finish but can last up to 90 minutes. You can’t choose your tour guide, which is too bad because a bad tour guide can seal the fate of the college. Try to talk them through that beforehand because they might not click with the tour guide.

You may not start your visit with a campus tour — it depends on your schedule or the visit day schedule.

The campus visit coordinator will organize tours differently on different campuses but should hit these areas.

Student Lounge Areas

Checking out student lounge areas can give you a great idea of how students interact socially. Do they sit around, chatting and drinking coffee? How do they decompress after a long day of studying? Is it vibrant and inviting?

Hopefully, you’ll see:

  • Comfortable seating options to provide a relaxed and informal atmosphere for students
  • Tables and workspaces to study and collaborate on group projects
  • Technology and equipment, such as TVs, gaming consoles and other entertainment
  • Residence hall social spaces might contain board games, pool tables and other recreational activities.
  • Bulletin boards or information centers where students can find announcements, event details and other important information
  • Designated quiet zones or study corners for students who prefer a quieter atmosphere for focused studying or reading.

Finally, hopefully, these areas are easily accessible. Student lounge areas are usually centrally located on campus so students can stop between classes. Student lounge areas vary considerably from school to school, so they’re one possibly overlooked area to check out on college campuses.

Cafeterias

Where do students eat? What’s the food like? Eating in the main dining area can give you and your student a good sense of how students utilize the cafeterias and, most importantly, how the food tastes. For some students, the cafeteria is one of the most important parts of the college experience — at least at first, on college visits. If the food isn’t good, don’t be surprised if your student writes off that college!

Image of a sushi bar; learning to check out cafeterias on campus is so important!

Cafeterias should be an open book, with diverse food options (particularly for specific dietary needs and healthy options), various meal plan options (which allow students to access the cafeteria for a certain number of meals per week), a range of food and specialty stations, social spaces, themed events, sustainability initiatives, late-night dining options and coffee shops or snack bars.

Residence Halls

Finding a campus with the right residence hall, or dorm, is tricky. The options available often depend on the size and resources of the colleges you visit. 

Traditional residence halls typically have multiple floors with rooms arranged in a hallway for communal living and communal bathrooms. You’ll often find common areas for socializing and studying. However, you can find residence halls peppered with dozens of different options. 

  • Suite-style halls: Community-style rooms connected by a shared common area and bathroom. 
  • Apartment-style halls: Individual apartments or suites with a kitchen, living area and private bathrooms, typically for upperclassmen.
  • Special-interest housing: Sometimes called themed housing, you might see special-interest housing favor honors students, language immersion living, or wellness communities. This might appeal to your student if they have specific interests.
  • First-year student halls: These cater to students to foster community and collaboration among students in their first year of college.
  • Family housing: If your student needs accommodations because they have a family of their own, family housing could be a good fit. Look into these units, which might consist of apartments or townhouses.

Other housing types might be available, even quiet or substance-free halls for students who prefer a more low-key living environment, or coed residence halls, which means that all genders coexist, likely with separate common areas. Your child can tap into so many different options — it’s amazing!

What residence halls, like in this image, speak to your child on college visits?

Athletic Facilities

Your tour may or may not go through sports complexes, gyms and stadiums to emphasize the importance of physical fitness and recreational activities. If your child is an athlete, meeting with a coach may be an important part of their college visit, so you may not need an in-depth tour of this space, because the coach will take care of that.

Administrative Buildings

A tour guide may walk you through offices for admissions, financial aid (to learn about the FAFSA) and other administrative services to help students understand the support available to them, including academic support services. 

You likely won’t spend much time in these areas because hitting the most relevant day-to-day spaces is important: academic buildings, residence halls, common areas and cafeterias. However, some campuses have unique or historic buildings that symbolize the institution.

Academic Buildings

Tour guides should show you several academic buildings, such as classrooms, laboratories, research centers and specialized facilities, to highlight the institution’s commitment to developing successful graduates.

They may also show you buildings that house computer labs, innovation centers, or technology-focused facilities to showcase a campus’s technological resources.

Academic facilities can give you a sense of what it’s like to attend classes at that college. If you can, consider setting aside some time to visit with a faculty member or sitting in on a class. Watching how the professors or teaching assistants interact with the students can give you a great idea of the experience you’ll get as a student.

Academic facilities may also be a huge part of the campus tour and college visit.

You can ask questions about the facilities, learn whether the technology is up to date, learn about the accessibility of faculty members, office hours, and any restrictions on faculty access or building access. You want your child’s best possible academic environment, and you can only find out by checking it out.

Some students think these are the most important buildings on a tour, and I half agree. You and your student must ensure you’re choosing the best educational atmosphere possible. However, remember that you can’t make friends with a building or spend time socializing with an academic program — remember the social aspect of campus life.

Evaluate the condition and accessibility of academic buildings. Are the facilities well-maintained, and do they meet your standards? Consider how easily you can navigate the campus and access the needed resources.

Visit specialized facilities related to your field of study, such as labs, studios or performance spaces. Pay attention to the condition of classrooms and lecture halls, noting factors like technology integration, seating arrangements and overall comfort.

Libraries

The campus tour should always feature at least one library. If it doesn’t, seriously question the integrity of the university. Even if your child doesn’t think they’ll use the library, they will! Look for shelves lined with a diverse tapestry of books and resources, the soft glow of study lamps and students huddling in cozy nooks or at communal tables, tapping away at laptops. 

The library should be calm, with a subtle rustle of turning pages and the faint hum of intellectual curiosity, creating a serene sanctuary for individual and collaborative learning.

Auditoriums and Performing Arts Spaces

Auditoriums and performing arts spaces may not appeal to all students (can you hear your student now?: “I’m not in the band or choir. Why do we have to look at this?”). Remember that all students will likely go to events on campus, and they may go here to watch.

The tour guide may also include beautiful spaces like parks, gardens, or other outdoor areas to show off the campus’s natural beauty and recreational spaces.

A few tips: 

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes! You will not want to wear high heels — you will walk on campus for an hour, sometimes over craggy sidewalks and up flights of stairs. Check your kids’ shoes, too.
  • Consider the weather. Bring a coat if it’s going to rain or be cold. Sometimes, students would show up in sweatshirts for their 20-degree-weather tour. Our campus visit coordinator often scrambled to find coats for these silly kids.
  • Check your physical fitness. Some family members struggle to keep up with the pace of a college kid on a tour. If you’re not sure you can make it, send your child on the tour on their own and view the campus on your own at a leisurely pace.
  • Walk near the front of the tour group. Campus tour groups may be huge, so park yourself near the front of the group so you can hear everything. The people in the back miss a lot.
  • Be prepared to stop a lot. Whether to ensure lagging people catch up or to stop to hear about a particular campus feature, you’re going to stop on the tour.
  • Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before your tour. Most student tour guides have a prescribed hour to fit in the whole tour, and making everyone else wait could mean the student might be late for class.
  • Ask questions. Everywhere you go!
  • Ask if you can go into buildings not on the tour. If you see a building and your tour guide does not plan to go in, ask if you can. They might say yes or suggest you swing back at the end of the tour or later during your visit.
  • Ask for a smaller tour group if yours is large: It’s worth trying to get a small tour if you can see a huge group of people forming to leave for a tour. Consider sidling up to the desk and asking discreetly for a smaller tour. It’s not always possible, but could be worth it to get a more personalized experience.

Experiencing the Academic Side

Besides touring academic buildings on campus, your student may also elect to meet with a professor. I highly recommend meeting with professors face-to-face to understand how professors work and interact with students. 

Are they serious? Jokey? Care about their students? Naturally, some of that varies from professor to professor, but should be ingrained in the college’s aims and goals. Ask about the accessibility of professors outside of class. Are they available for one-on-one meetings, and do they actively engage with students in academic and extracurricular settings? 

Understanding the level of interaction your child can have with faculty members is crucial for a well-rounded educational experience.

If meeting with a professor gives your kid the heebie-jeebies, sitting in on a class can help alleviate some of that pressure. Your child will get a feel for the class while you duck out and order your favorite coffee from the student cafe.

Your student will hopefully feel immediately at ease in that professor’s classroom. Some professors even involve the student in the lesson! Fun (and a little scary)!

If you visit during a group visit day, you may only be able to hear an academic presentation by a professor or admission counselor. If that’s the case, that will give you a great rundown of the academic major your child is interested in, and as an added benefit, you may also hear questions others ask about the program or major that you hadn’t thought to ask.

Meeting with Others on Campus

Finally, who else can you think of to meet while on campus? All of this will be prescheduled before you get to campus, but you may also consider meeting with:

  • Academic support individuals, particularly if your student has dyslexia or other learning differences.
  • Coaches, if your child knows they want to play a sport in college. 
  • Financial aid, particularly if you want to get an in-depth idea of what it will cost to attend the college or university.

Did you have a brainwave during your visit but didn’t make an appointment to meet with a particular group or individual on campus? Ask the admissions team or campus visit coordinator if you can squeeze it in later or make an appointment to talk with someone over the phone or Zoom in the coming weeks.

Other Factors to Consider During College Visits

There are a million other things to consider when you’re on campuses. However, we’ll bring a few to the forefront: student-to-faculty ratio, extracurricular activities, diversity and student support services. Let’s hatch these eggs.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Class size can significantly impact your learning experience. Smaller class sizes often allow for more personalized attention and meaningful interactions with professors. During your visit, inquire about the student-to-faculty ratio and how it might vary across different departments.

Extracurricular Opportunities

Beyond academics, a well-rounded college experience includes participation in extracurricular activities. Explore the clubs, sports teams and cultural organizations available on campus. Consider how these opportunities align with your child’s interests and passions.

Don't forget to ask about extracurricular activities like ski club, in this image.

If you’re lucky, maybe a club fair will be going on, or maybe your student can talk to someone about an organization. Inquire about the level of student involvement, leadership opportunities and the overall impact of extracurricular activities on the campus community. A vibrant extracurricular scene can enhance your child’s college experience and contribute to personal and professional growth.

Campus Diversity

Diversity enhances the learning environment by exposing students to a variety of perspectives. Take note of the student body’s demographic makeup and the college’s efforts to promote inclusivity. A diverse campus fosters a rich and dynamic community. 

Speak with students from various backgrounds to gain insights into their experiences on campus. Additionally, inquire about the support services for underrepresented groups and the overall campus climate regarding diversity and inclusion. Remember, diversity means many things, including where people are from and their interests.

Support Services

College life can be demanding. Ask about counseling services, academic support and career guidance. If resources like this are readily available, your student may feel more secure as they navigate the academic journey. Learn about mental health resources available on campus to ensure a well-rounded support system throughout your child’s college experience.

Career Services

Ask about internship and job placement and the percentages. Alarm bells should ring if you hear “30 percent of our students found jobs after graduation last year.” That’s low. Ask about time management and study skill seminars offered by academic support services. 

Making the Most of Your Campus Visits

Finally, let’s put the chocolate syrup on the ice cream on your campus tour. These tips will put the finishing touches on your visits.

Engage with Current Students

Current students are the MIPs — the most insightful people — during college visits. They can offer candid information about daily life on campus, the rigor of academic programs and the overall student experience. Don’t hesitate to discuss with students you encounter during your tour, and consider arranging meetings with student ambassadors or participating in campus events.

Prepare a list of questions to ask current students. Inquire about their favorite aspects of the college, any challenges they’ve faced and how supportive the campus community is. Ask about opportunities for involvement in clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities. Current students’ perspectives can provide a realistic and nuanced view of what being a part of the college community is like.

Explore Surrounding Areas

A college education extends beyond the campus boundaries. Take time to explore the surrounding areas to gauge the off-campus lifestyle. Consider factors such as housing options, local amenities and job opportunities for internships or part-time work. A college’s location can significantly influence your overall experience, so ensure it aligns with your preferences.

Beyond the immediate vicinity, consider the broader city or town. Is it a thriving urban center with diverse cultural offerings or a quieter town with a strong sense of community? Assess whether the surrounding area complements your lifestyle and preferences.

Document Your Impressions

With multiple college visits, details can start to blur. Create a system for documenting your impressions through a travel journal, photos, or a dedicated app. Include notes on the campus atmosphere, academic facilities and any standout features. Use our college visit checklist, the College Money Tips College Visit Spreadsheet, to document your impressions. You can copy and paste it onto your own Google spreadsheet. 

Organize your documentation by college, making it easy to compare your experiences. Include positive and negative observations and any feelings or intuitions you had during the visit. This documentation will be a valuable reference when making your final decision, helping you recall the nuances of each campus and how well they align with your expectations. Don’t forget to do this right away because it’s easy to forget the details once you do several college visits!

Does Visiting a College Help You Get In?

Do college visits help admissions? 

Visiting colleges doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get in. You still have to meet the entrance requirements for the college or university. Your admission counselor will go over the requirements when you meet with them. If you don’t think you’ll meet the requirements, ask the admission office about what you can do to boost your chances of getting in. It may involve taking the ACT or SAT again or auditioning for an oboe solo — ask the admission office.

Make Your College Visits Exceptional

In the intricate process of choosing the right college, official campus visits stand out as a pivotal step. By immersing yourself in the environment, engaging with current students and carefully considering various factors, you can make the right decisions that align with your academic and personal goals. College visits go beyond the brochures and websites. They let you envision your future on campus and find the perfect home.

Also, remember that the weather can influence your perception of a campus. A beautiful, sunny day might cast the campus in a positive light, while a rainy or overcast day could impact the visit. Consider visiting multiple times, if possible, to experience the campus in different seasons and weather conditions.

Finally, consider visiting colleges when schools are in session because you can view the college when students are on campus. Visiting college during spring break or fall break requires a specific approach, possibly visiting again when students are on campus.

Learn more: How to End the College Search

How to Schedule College Visits that Check All the Boxes

How to Schedule College Visits that Check All the Boxes

College visits can be so exciting! However, they’re also nerve-wracking for both you and your student because it’s such unfamiliar territory. You and your child may have dozens of different questions: 

  • “What do I wear on a college visit?” (Your kiddo can wear casual clothes, FYI — unless they are doing an interview or audition.)
  • “What questions do I ask?” 
  • “How do I schedule a college visit?” 
  • “How do college visits work?”

As a parent, you’ll have another set of questions: 

  • “When do I get to talk to the financial aid office?”
  • “How much will it cost to go to this school?”
  • “I can’t take time off work. Do colleges do tours on weekends?”

The best way to find out all the answers to your questions: Visiting colleges.

But before learning how to schedule college visits, it’s important to do some preplanning, particularly because you’ll have to crack open that daunting family calendar. 

Let’s take an in-depth look at how to schedule a campus visit.

How to Schedule College Visits: A Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s go over the steps for how to set up a college visit, beginning with thinking through your child’s interests. Then we’ll walk you through how to coordinate with admission offices at the school your child wants to visit.

Step 1: Determine which schools to visit.

The hardest part might seem like it should be the simplest. Which colleges should you visit? Ask your child a few questions:

  • What size college do you prefer? Do you think you’d like to go to a large state university or a smaller liberal arts college? Or a college that’s sized something in between? It’s a great idea to visit a small, medium and large institution so you get a feel for each option.
  • How far away do you feel comfortable attending college? That will peel back their options — or open them super wide!
  • Which schools do you want to apply to? Visit the colleges your student plans to apply to or has been granted admission to. (I know, it seems super obvious.)

So, finally, create a shortlist. Spend some time brainstorming with your student. It’s okay to put together a list of colleges and universities you’ve heard of, including adding colleges that you know Aunt Sarah has gone to, etc. Also consider location, size and available programs. Consider not getting too hung up on the program, however, because many students change their minds about their major while in college.

Step 2: Set a realistic timeline.

When should you tour colleges? As a senior, your child may want to visit prior to major application deadlines. For example, you may not want to visit October 31 if your child faces a November 1 deadline! Here’s a quick look at common application deadline dates:

  • Early Decision (ED): Deadlines for ED applications are usually November 1 or 15. You especially want to visit prior to these deadlines because ED is a binding commitment, meaning your child must withdraw their other college applications.
  • Early Action (EA): Deadlines for EA applications usually land in November, but some may extend into December as well. EA is non-binding, unlike ED, which means your child can apply to other colleges.
  • Regular Decision (RD): RD deadlines commonly land around January 1 or 15. You can apply to multiple colleges RD and decide on the national candidate reply date, May 1.
  • Rolling Admission: Rolling admission means universities and colleges review applications as they receive them and make decisions throughout the year. It offers the most flexibility when working around visit dates, but you still want to visit and apply early so your child can secure their spot in the class.

Then, there’s also your child’s year in school to consider. Freshmen and sophomores definitely have the most flexibility because you can visit any time, at any year. Juniors generally have the same option. But here’s a quick breakdown for you!

  • Junior year: Visit during school breaks, weekends or any time that fits your schedule.
  • Senior year: Schedule visits during the fall that your child hasn’t had a chance to visit, prior to the application deadline. 

Does this mean that your child can’t visit colleges after submitting applications, particularly after they have been accepted? Absolutely not — that’s what admitted student events are for. Repeat visits are also great for revisiting specific departments as well! For example, if you want to compare two biology departments more closely, you can definitely visit to compare them, apples-to-apples.

Step 4: Decide on a date and time.

Think about the right date and time for your visit, because that’s one of the first questions you’ll have to answer when you talk to an admission office or sign up for a visit online. Some colleges have very specific visit days outlined and others allow you to visit whenever you’d like, during regular business hours. Some colleges are also open on select Saturdays. 

Don’t forget to leave yourself plenty of time to do a visit. Allow yourself at least two hours to go on a tour and meet with an admission counselor, though you might even need four hours to do everything your child wants to do. 

Tip: Consider not touring two college visits in one day, even if they’re in the same town. It’s a lot for one day!

Step 5: Determine what you’d like to do on your child’s visit.

Talk to your child about what you want to do on a college visit ahead of time. The downside to this process: You may not even know your options when you set up a campus visit. Most colleges have a dizzying array of college visit options. For example, your child can: 

  • Attend an on-campus, personal visit
  • Opt for a large group visit day
  • Do a visit day specific to your child’s interests, like an admitted student visit day, engineering visit day or transfer visit day

Consider: Does your child want to blend into the crowd? Go for a large group visit day. Do you both prefer that your visit be a one-on-one experience? You both might want to do a personal campus visit. 

I really liked one-on-one personal campus visits because it’s all about your student — they can do exactly what they want on a visit, such as digging into a science lab or meeting with an engineering professor one-on-one. It’s pretty hard to do that on a personal campus visit.

Step 6: Contact the admission office.

There are two main ways to schedule a college visit: 

  1. The old fashioned way: Calling the admission office on the phone. All colleges have a campus visit coordinator who answers the phone and schedules your visit. Most of these individuals are super friendly and welcoming!
  2. The 21st century way: Signing up for a visit online. (Okay, that option existed in the 20th century, too.) Anyway, you can sign up for everything your child wants to do online. 

We’ll go through how each option works, step by step, below: 

Phoning the Admission Office

I often used to answer the phone in the admission office for the campus visit coordinator, so this is how it would sometimes sound:

Campus visit coordinator: “[Name of college] admission, this is Melissa. How can I help you?” 

You or your student (encourage your student to make the call! It’s a great step toward independence!): “Hello, we’d like to schedule a college visit.”

Campus visit coordinator: “Great! What is your student’s name and when would you like to visit?”

The campus visit coordinator will immediately ask you questions, such as your student’s name and hometown to locate them in their customer relationship management (CRM) system. Many colleges and universities use Slate. If your child is already in the CRM, it’s easy peasy. If you’re not in the system, expect more questions, such as: 

  • Name
  • Address
  • High school
  • Year in school
  • Phone number
  • Academic interests
  • Other questions to help them complete your profile in Slate
Slate is the name of the CRM that campus visit coordinators use to schedule college visits. Image of Slate on a computer.

Because you’ve talked about what you’d like to do while on campus, you have a launchpad to discuss all your options with the campus visit coordinator. Throw every interest your student has out there, no matter how wacky. They are there to help your student connect with specific interests, such as women’s bowling or the chess club.

Much like reviewing your order at a restaurant, the campus visit coordinator should walk you through your requests and then get to work putting together your visit. 

Registering for a Visit Online

Naturally, registering for a visit online is a markedly different experience because you’re not talking to a real person. I recommend calling because you can articulate any special nuances of your visit. For example, you can ask for a possible longer tour because you’re bringing Grandma and Grandpa along. Talking with them in person can allow you to ask specific questions about the campus visit schedule.

However, registering for a visit online is certainly an option. The process looks like this:

  1. Navigate to the website. Click on “Admissions” on the college’s website, ensuring you’re on the undergraduate admissions section of the website.
  2. Click “Visit.”
  3. Choose the type of visit you prefer. You may have an array of choices: personal campus visit (also called daily visit), weekend visit or group visit.
  4. Fill out the information prompt. The site will prompt you to fill in your name, address, high school, graduation year, academic interests, athletic interests, etc.
  5. Indicate specific requests. Does your child have very specific questions for a particular individual? You can choose meeting with a professor or coach, sitting in on a class, meeting with an admission counselor or meeting with other individuals on campus.
  6. Check for a confirmation email after you hit submit. It should come to your inbox pretty quickly! If you don’t receive a confirmation email within a day, reach out to the admission office. 
  7. Create an account (if required). Some colleges may require you to create an account on the admission portal to handle your visit, so follow the instructions. 
  8. Prepare to modify your registration. Many colleges allow you to modify your registration online. Use the confirmation email or the admission portal to make necessary changes. If you must cancel your visit, do so within 24 hours.

Contact the admission office if you have specific requests not available on the online visit form. You want to get the most tailored visit possible for your child, because you may only have one shot to visit! 

At the very minimum, try to get: 

  • Tour of campus
  • Meet with an admission professional
  • Meet with a financial aid professional
  • Meet with a professor
  • Information session (usually led by admission staff, though professors may lead this session)

However, if your child has other “musts” in college — dietary needs, soccer talent, oboe talent — whatever! — schedule those meetings as well. 

Step 7: Watch for confirmation materials.

Your child should get confirmation materials, and they may come in various forms: 

  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Written confirmation via snail mail
  • Phone confirmation

Your high schooler might get some of these confirmation types — or all of them. 

Double-check all confirmation materials so you know you’ve got the right date, time and appointments. Your child may also get an email or text message confirmation the day of the visit or the night before. Check the dates and times again. 

Tip for parents: You might want to add your own email or phone number to the confirmation materials — not your student’s. High school kids aren’t always the best at checking their email and sometimes don’t read text messages thoroughly.

Learn more: Are College Tours Free?

Step 8: Consider a virtual tour ahead of time.

Why not get a preview of the college? It’ll help you think of questions to ask when you actually visit. For example, check out Harvard’s virtual tour. You can make notes as you watch and bring those notes with you when you and your child visit the college.

What to Remember When Scheduling College Visits

When scheduling college visits, remember: 

  1. No question is too silly. You want to get the very best college visit possible for your child, so ask for those appointments that seem over the top, like “Can we meet with a wildlife biology professor, not just a biology professor?”
  2. Consider writing out your plan ahead of time. Colleges have different fall break dates, weekend dates and more. What works for one college visit may not work for another, and you may find yourself in the position of having to switch visit dates. Therefore, consider discussing several campuses you want to visit so you can do a switcheroo if needed.
  3. You’re not alone in this process. A campus visit coordinator or admission counselor can answer your questions about the campus visit schedule or how to visit colleges. If you have questions, ask. You should never feel lost during the college visit process.

Visit several colleges so you and your child can compare and contrast them. Consider checking out a wide variety of school sizes, from state universities to private colleges and even community colleges, too. The only way you can find the best fit for your high schooler is to visit a lot of colleges.

Schedule College Visits Now

You and your child also visit at any age — you can start as early as middle school if you choose! But if you get going during your high schooler’s sophomore year in high school, that’ll give you plenty of time to make the rounds and get a feel for which one is best for your child. 

Keep a log before and after visiting. I have a handy spreadsheet you can copy and paste! 

Keep a running list of the pros and cons of each college. Your child might start to forget about visits she did three years ago, so keeping a spreadsheet is one way to keep things fresh on your college visit checklist.

What is Deferred in College Admission?

What is Deferred in College Admission?

What is deferred in college admission? 

“Deferred” means that a college or university hasn’t finished reviewing your child’s admission and will decide on your child’s admission status at a later date. 

Deferred admission usually happens in two different ways: When an early decision applicant goes into the regular applicant pool and when a regular applicant must submit more records or materials in order for the college or university to make a final decision about the applicant’s credentials. 

In this article, we’ll discuss “What does deferred mean in college?” and what to do if your child gets deferred from college.

What is a Deferred Admission College Decision?

What does deferred admission mean, in more detail? 

The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) defines a “deferral” like this: a student retains eligibility in the regular admission pool but is not admitted.

When a college or university defers admission, application deferred meaning simply means that the admission committee at that particular school wants to review your child’s application against the Regular Decision pool of applicants. Regular Decision refers to an admission round where students submit their application non-binding (which means they don’t have to attend if accepted) typically by January and receive an admission decision by late March or early April. They have until May 1 to accept or decline the offer of acceptance. 

Students who end up with a deferred admission start out applying for admission in a few ways — Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA). Let’s take a quick look at the definitions and learn more about the various admission types

  • Early Decision (ED): If your child applies ED, the decision is binding. Your student must attend that particular college and withdraw applications to any and all other schools. Students can apply ED to just one other college.
  • Early Action (EA): EA, which is not binding, means your child can apply to other colleges and does not have to attend if accepted.
  • Restrictive Early Action (REA): The not-binding REA allows students to take until May 1 to make a decision but cannot apply early to any other college — including ED, EA or REA.

Your student may feel disappointed about not getting an outright acceptance, but it’s important to stay focused on the positives — most importantly, that the college still wants to continue “getting to know” your student. Your child is still in the running! In fact, you should think of it this way: Schools often don’t know what the level of competitiveness of their applicant pool will look like in the Regular Decision round, so they want to hold back applications in order to compare them.

Some early applicants go into the regular applicant pool. The admission committee will give them a second chance with a new look at them. That way, they can look at strong applicants in the context of the regular application pool. This is a good thing because the regular applicant pool usually isn’t as weighty (aka competitive) as the early applicant pools.

Here’s another perk: Your child can submit updates, such as final semester grades, leadership accomplishments and others that they couldn’t submit before because it was too early in the application process.

Why Do Colleges Defer Students?

Colleges defer students for several reasons, including the fact that they are not ready to make a final decision about your students’ applications. They may have also had a huge surge of early applications and need to defer a large group of applicants who are “on the bubble” — those who are not automatic shoo-ins but still admissible and viable as candidates. Admission offices might also expect a surge of applications for Regular Decision and want to keep spots open for the right candidates. 

Now, to make things seem more confusing, you may have also heard of “deferred enrollment.” Note that this means that a student decides to defer admission on their own after acceptance into an academic program. For example, a student may choose to defer admission in order to take a gap year. 

Is a Deferral a Rejection? 

No, a college deferral is not a rejection. It also does not mean that anything at all is wrong with your child’s application. However, your child might think of it as similar to a rejection, and it’s important to help them understand that a deferral offers them an opportunity to continue to prove their worth to the college or university that issued the deferral. 

Harvard says the following about “What does deferred mean?” within its frequently asked questions, “It is impossible to predict individual admission decisions. Past students whose applications were deferred have been admitted at various rates, often approximating the rate for Regular Decision candidates. Over the next few months, your application will be reviewed again, supplying another opportunity for eventual admission.”

How to Handle a Deferral 

Let’s take a look at a few steps to handle a deferral if your child gets one. 

Step 1: Learn what the college needs to know.

Some colleges share that they would like to learn more information about your student, such as asking for an updated transcript, newer test scores or an update on extracurricular activities. 

A college might also firmly state that deferred students should not submit additional application materials. If that’s the case, your child should not submit anything else — not following directions can ruin their chances of gaining admission.

If the college allows you to send additional materials, here’s what you can do next:

Your child will have to gather all the requested materials, just like they did the first time around. However, everything will need to go up a notch. Don’t submit test scores if they are worse than previous scores, and work to get incredible letters of recommendation that are absolutely fantastic. Do whatever you can to encourage your child to go all out after the deferral — not lose momentum. It can be easy to lose enthusiasm after a deferral, but don’t.

If you or your child have specific questions about the materials to submit, call your child’s admission counselor (you can find territory assignments on the college’s website) and have a candid conversation about the materials. The admission counselor will not be able to give you or your child any guarantees regarding admission but will advise you about what to include and maybe even some tips on how to present it. They have your student’s best interests at heart. 

Step 2: Have your student draft a letter.

Your student may already feel as if they’ve done a lot regarding admission to that particular institution. However, it’s time to write a professional letter to the director or dean of admission as well as to the admissions counselor.

Consider sending both an email and a hard copy of the letter in the mail. In the letter, one of the most important things your child should do involves explaining why you want to enroll in college. Above all else, colleges want to make sure you fit their school academically, but they also want to hear the magic words — “I want to attend your school because of these reasons…” 

It may sound something like this:

My first-choice major at XYZ University is biochemistry, which combines my favorite science classes, biology and chemistry. I knew that I wanted my senior year schedule to follow a strong biochemistry program. After numerous conversations with alumni and my admissions counselor, Jackie Smith, I decided that I wanted to attend XYZ University. I believe that XYZ’s biochemistry program offers me the best opportunity to pursue my goals of becoming a pharmacist. I also plan to pursue the Science Club and undergraduate research opportunities through Professor Mei’s annual attendance at the molecular biology symposium. 

I’m excited about all the possibilities available to me at XYZ — the college remains my first choice. If admitted in the regular decision round, I intend to enroll at XYZ. 

Since I applied Early Decision, I have become president of the biochemistry club at my high school and began volunteering at our local hospital.

Show that your child will enroll at the school. Restate why the college makes academic and social sense and reference various opportunities your child will get involved in. Let the admissions committee know about those achievements.

Step 3: Ask for letters of recommendation. 

As you already know, it’s important to pull out all the stops, so when your child needs additional scholarship recommendations, you should carefully consider just who will do it. You want this person to be able to talk up your student’s character, leadership skills and other qualifications. Who has developed a personal relationship with your child and who can write a letter of recommendation for admission? 

Look for someone who can share your child’s character, qualities and future potential. Letter writers really do have a big job — they have to understand the gravity of the deferral recommendation letter, factors that appeal to the committee, deliver a well-written letter and more. They have to make it succinct, compelling and impossible to resist, which is why your child should choose the right person, ideally someone who knows deferred meaning college and what is at stake.

Step 4: Recheck the application. 

Your child has done a lot up to this point on the application and it may seem like a major heave to look at everything again. However, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to make sure the application checks all the boxes. 

Have your student check the grammar, change some language from active voice to passive voice, have your child read it out loud. As with everything else, it’s time to get this absolutely right.

Step 5: Get comfortable with other schools. 

Even if your child takes all the above advice, remember that they could still get rejected in the regular admission cycle. Does your child have other schools on the list? Get to know other schools. 

If your child has applied to four or five, what are the pros and cons of each of them? What types of admission do they require, such as rolling admission? You may need to go through the process of visiting other institutions if you’ve been focused on this one. Therefore, consider setting up visits through the admissions office at various schools. You may even need to take a look at other schools by visiting a second time.

Can You Turn a Deferral into an Acceptance? 

Absolutely! Once you’ve deciphered the “deferred from college meaning,” it’s important not to lose heart or lose sight of the continued possibilities. Your child still has a chance with the college. 

Learn more about the length of time that admission officers read applications.

Understand How to Handle Deferrals Ahead of Time 

You likely don’t want to think negatively about your child’s acceptance and how it might turn into a deferral. However, don’t focus so much on the deferred college meaning. 

Instead, do everything you can to help your student work toward an acceptance but remember that colleges may not want students to submit additional application materials. If that’s the case, follow the college’s instructions to a T — not doing so can spell out an automatic rejection from the college.

FAQs 

Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about deferrals.

Is it better to be waitlisted or deferred?

Waitlisted is different from a deferral. Waitlisting means that your child goes into a type of “holding tank,” meaning that your child may or may not get admitted. At some schools, those on the waitlist almost never get admitted. If waitlisted, your child should start making plans at other schools, which is why students always need a backup list.

Is it better to be deferred or rejected?

A deferral is not the same thing as a rejection. A rejection means that the school will not offer your child admission at this time, while a deferral means that your child’s application will go into the Regular Decision pool of applicants. They want to compare your child’s application against those applicants in the Regular Decision pool. 

It’s worth mentioning that a rejection doesn’t have to be permanent. Your child can attend another institution for a semester or a year (such as a community college) and transfer to the original school to which your student applied.

Does deferred usually mean rejected?

No, deferred doesn’t mean an automatic rejection, and it’s important to remember that. Your child still has a shot at admission. Colleges defer students because they are not ready to make a final decision, may have had a large number of early applications or may expect a large number of applications in the Regular Decision round and want to keep spots open for the right candidates. 

It does not mean an automatic rejection at all. However, prepare your student to tap into backup options.

Pin It on Pinterest