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Before you plan your college visit, read this

The spring semester at most colleges ends around mid-May. Between now and August, you’re going to find a lot of prospective students and their parents visiting those campuses. If you’re under the impression preparing for a college visit starts and ends with booking your visit date online, it’s time to consider the other factors that go into making your trip to campus a successful one.

In a recent episode of the Talking College with Admissions and Planning Expert John Dragone, host John Dragone talks about why it’s important to go on college visits, how to schedule a visit, preparing for a meeting with an admissions counselor and more.


Should I visit my ‘reach’ schools?

Dragone defines ‘reach’ schools as ones “that might be difficult for you to gain admission to as well as ones that might be a financial stretch for your family.”

While it’s perfectly okay to visit reach schools, the “majority of your college visits should be to colleges where you have a good chance of being admitted and you know that they’re affordable to your family,” said Dragone.

Tip: Nine out of 10 schools you visit should be schools that are ‘safe’ in terms of the potential to gain admission.

Related: The college application process: Understanding the ACT and SAT


How do you know if a school is likely to accept you?

To figure out where you stand at the end of your junior year, request a three-year transcript from your high school’s counseling office. You’ll also likely have at least one set of ACT or SAT scores by this time. Compare your grade point average (GPA) and standardized test scores to the range of admitted GPAs and test scores listed on the prospective school’s website.

Related: College planning: How to choose the right major and career


Why college visits are important

Here are a few reasons why it’s important to go on college visits:

  • “You get to see the college as it truly is rather than how it looks on the internet. By actually visiting the campus, you’re going to get a gut feeling about the college that you can’t get from the internet,” explained Dragone.
  • Some colleges take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating an applicant for admission. Visiting a college campus is one form of demonstrated interest.
  • Visiting “gives you a chance to see the surrounding community. Oftentimes, students and parents think, ‘as long as the campus is wonderful, and the facilities are great, and the college has all of this stuff that the students looking for, that’s enough,’” said Dragone. “No, it isn’t because the surrounding community is also going to be that student’s home for the next four years.”

Related: When attending your dream college means massive student loan debt


How to schedule a college visit

There are four main types of college visits, each offering a slightly different experience. Those types are the individual visit, group information session, open house program and virtual campus tour. Note that campus tours are part of all college visit itineraries.

Tip: Schedule your college visit at least two weeks in advance.

“If you’re visiting multiple colleges that are in close proximity to one another, geographically speaking, try your best to schedule those visits together,” advised Dragone. “It’s going to save you time, transportation costs, hotel costs, et cetera.”

Tip: If you’re staying in the area overnight, call the admissions office to “ask if they have any kind of special rate arrangements with any hotels in the area for people who are visiting that campus,” said Dragone. Not all schools have this type of partnership in place, but it’s definitely worth an ask.

Related: What role should parents play in the college planning process?


Preparing to meet with an admissions counselor

Here’s what you should bring to the meeting:

  • Copy of high school transcript
  • ACT or SAT scores only if your score is well in line with the school’s score profile
  • High school profile (ask counselor for this document)
  • Copy of most recent report card
  • List of courses you plan to take in your senior year
  • Resume of activities, honors, awards, community service, etc.

Tip: Before the meeting, find out if it will be evaluative or non-evaluative. Evaluative means the admissions officer will ask you questions and take down notes based on your responses. That information can then be used as a component to evaluate your application for admission.

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s non-evaluative,” explained Dragone. This means “it’s nothing more than a simple discussion between the student and an admissions counselor.”

For non-evaluative meetings, be prepared to answer these three questions at minimum:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in our college?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Tip: Instead of asking, ‘Will I be accepted?’ ask ‘How would you describe the strength of my candidacy for admission?’

Dragone ends this podcast episode with a final caution for students embarking on college visits: “Don’t judge a college based on [how much] you liked or didn’t like the admissions counselor, or the quality of the job the student tour that day did,” he said. “I see that all the time. A college could be a perfect fit for a student, and maybe the admissions counselor was having a bad day, or maybe the tour guide just wasn’t that good. Don’t judge a college based on that. The reverse of that is, don’t be sold on [a college] just because you loved the admissions counselor and the tour guide.”

Related: The liberal arts experience: Is it the right fit for you?


You can listen to or watch the full podcast episode “TALKING COLLEGE: Scheduling and Experiencing an Awesome College Visit; A Step-by-Step Guide” here.

NOTE: The episode linked above is the second-to-last episode of the season. Talking College with Admissions and College Planning Expert John Dragone will return to FingerLakes1.com this fall. Check this page for the latest episode.

Additionally, please note that college planning, as explained by Dragone, is a multi-step process. To familiarize yourself with the previous steps, head to this page, which lists every episode in the Talking College podcast series thus far. We recommend starting with the oldest episode and working your way to the newest.



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