How to Schedule a College Visit that Checks All the Boxes

How to Schedule a College Visit that Checks All the Boxes

College visits are so exciting! Sure, they can be nerve-wracking and your student might have a million questions all at once: 

  • “What do I wear on a college visit?” 
  • “What questions do I ask?” 
  • “How do I schedule a college visit?” 

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

  • “When do I get to talk to the financial aid office?”
  • “How do I ask questions about the FAFSA? Do I even need to file the FAFSA?”
  • “What the heck is the FAFSA???” 

And so on. I’ll iron it all out for you. Also, your kiddo can wear casual clothes, FYI.

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What Happens During a College Visit?

Visiting colleges is the best way to figure out whether your child has found the right match. The internet, despite all of its wonderfulness, cannot tell you exactly what it feels like to be on campus. It can’t show you the warmth of the professors or the friendliness of the students. It can’t prove how delicious the food is or how much your admission counselor cares about your child. 

You can do a number of things when you’re on a college visit: 

  • Take a tour
  • Visit with an admission counselor
  • Meet with a professor
  • Talk to a coach 
  • Eat lunch on campus
  • Learn more about a particular extracurricular activity
  • Meet with anyone you want (dietician, career center, study abroad office, etc.)
  • Spend the night on campus

Many universities offer large group tours only, whereas small private colleges often offer personal campus visits. The personal campus visit means you have the opportunity to tailor your individual visit to you. You can dive into meals, clubs, the social scene, classes and residence halls.

Visiting a campus is the real deal — so take one of those freebie college visit days your child gets through his high school.

How to Set Up a Visit

Here’s what you’ll need to do to set up a college visit. By the way, I really, really, really encourage your student to do this. I know it’s hard for your teen to make a phone call, but this is good real-world practice!

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:

  • 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 your 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, seems super obvious.)

Step 2: Contact the admission office.

You can sign up for a college admission visit by calling the admission office. All colleges have a campus visit coordinator who answers the phone and schedules your visit. Most of these individuals are super friendly and welcoming!

You can also visit the college’s website to set up your visit. However, I encourage you to resist the temptation to do that. Know that if you register online, you can’t discuss every intricacy of your visit, particularly really specific requests. (Like meeting with the dietician on campus away from the dairy section, or whatever your specific needs are!)

Step 3: Decide on a date and time.

Select a date and time for your visit and think about it in advance. 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 get everything checked off the list.

Don’t rush it! And for heaven’s sake, don’t do two college visits in one day.

Step 4: Determine what you’d like to do on your child’s visit.

You may not even know your options when you set up a campus visit. Your child can:

  • Do a daily visit.
  • Opt for a large group visit day.
  • Do a visit day specific to your situation, like an admitted student visit day, engineering visit day or transfer visit day.
  • Spend the night on campus.

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. 

Discuss all your options with the campus visit coordinator of the school you’ve chosen to visit. He or she can connect you with people who can talk to you about your specific interests, such as women’s bowling or the chess club.

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Step 5: 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.

Hot 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.

Step 6: Visit the campus.

On the day of your visit, be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes early. You and your child may need to spend the night or make travel arrangements ahead of time. Ask the admission office about travel reimbursements — some colleges offer partial reimbursement for gas, flights and other travel expenses. 

Go to the admission office or the location for the visit if it’s a group visit day. The campus visit coordinator will likely greet you in the admission office. If you do a group visit day at a university, your day might go something like this. You might: 

  1. Listen to an information session with an admission counselor that provides an overview of the college or university, its academic programs and how to apply.
  2. Go on a walking campus tour with a student tour guide and see residence halls on the tour.
  3. Eat lunch. Lunch may be provided for free through certain institutions.
  4. Attend an academic information session, which involves meeting with an adviser for the department your child is planning to major in. This session may also involve other students and their families.
  5. Go on a specific academic department tour.

Don’t forget to bring a permission slip from your child’s high school. High schools often need proof that you’ve been on a college visit. A college admission counselor or the campus visit coordinator can sign it for you.

Step 7: Ask great questions!

This is your student’s opportunity (and yours!) to ask every question that comes to mind. Here are some great questions you might want to ask and the people you’ll want to direct them to. 

Student Tour Guides

  • What do you do for fun? What is the social scene like?
  • How do you balance everything, from academics to athletics and more?
  • What are classes and professors like?
  • Why did you choose this college?
  • What is your major? What are your plans after college?
  • How do you manage the cost of tuition, room and board?
  • Do you have a work-study job on campus? What do you do?
  • Which residence hall is the best?
  • What’s one thing that you’d really like to change about this college? (We really like this one!)

Admission Counselors

  • When is my application due?
  • What are your required ACT/SAT scores and grade point averages?
  • What type of application do you have? Rolling admission? Early decision? Early action?
  • Why should I attend this school?
  • Which are your best programs?
  • What’s your freshman retention rate?
  • What is the percentage of students who get jobs after graduation? How many of these are in students’ majors or a related field?
  • How many students get internships?

Financial Aid Professionals

  • When will I receive my financial aid award?
  • Can you help me file the FAFSA?
  • How does merit-based aid work at your college? What kind of need-based aid can I get? 
  • Are my scholarships renewable every year?
  • How does work-study get assigned at this school?
  • How will you help me break down the cost?


  • What is your coaching style?
  • Why do you coach at this school?
  • How does your practice schedule work in season and during the off-season?
  • What does the conditioning schedule look like?
  • What is the freshman retention rate?
  • Will I be able to play right away?


  • What is your teaching style?
  • How often do full professors teach the classes?
  • Do you help students get internships or jobs after graduation?
  • Do you help undergraduates get research opportunities?
  • How do you measure success in your classroom?
  • When are your office hours? Is it easy for students to get their questions answered?

These questions are only a starting point. Write down questions you and your child have ahead of time. You can tailor a lot of them to your child’s personal situation.

Step 8: Send thank you notes.

A verbal thank you goes a long way. Imagine how far a written thank you note could go! It could affect a lot — including your budding relationships with people at a particular school.

What to Remember on College Visits

Make sure to explore on your own when you visit colleges. Tour guides will show you the nicest residence halls, the most polished academic buildings and the most impressive student lounges. Admission counselors will hit all the high points a school offers. Take a look at things on your own and also take students aside and ask them questions if you can. Encourage your child to ask the admission counselor, coach or professor to be candid. 

Also, don’t just visit one! Visit several colleges so you and your child can compare and contrast them. Also, consider avoiding just the grand tour of state universities. Check out 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

Listen to the information provided by the admission counselor, talk to current students and tour colleges to get all questions answered and prioritize your child’s choices.

Wonder when you should schedule your visit? There are no rules, though you can check NACAC’s list of campus updates due to coronavirus.

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 — I actually 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.

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