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:
- 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!
- 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:
- High school
- Year in school
- Phone number
- Academic interests
- Other questions to help them complete your profile in Slate
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:
- Navigate to the website. Click on “Admissions” on the college’s website, ensuring you’re on the undergraduate admissions section of the website.
- Click “Visit.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.