This is the first of two posts about parent participation in admissions visits to colleges. The college visit is an important part of the college admissions process, but parents may not be sure how best to participate in and maximize that visit. This first post suggests some things parents should think about as they prepare for and make the college visit. Our next post offers some specific suggestions to get both parents and students started thinking about productive questions to ask during a visit.
One of the most important steps in the college admissions process is the campus visit. Your student will need to see and get a feeling for a campus before making a final decision about whether a school is right for him. Although the decision ultimately belongs to the student, as a parent, you also need to feel comfortable about the school. Asking questions during the admissions visit is a great way to gather some of the information that you need to feel comfortable. However, as with so many other considerations in the college process, parents walk a find line between being helpful and becoming intrusive.
Remember that the admissions process really does belong to your student. It is important that you have a certain level of involvement, and provide a great deal of support, but it is crucial that you keep reminding yourself that it is not your process. This is equally true of the campus visit. While it is important that you go along if possible, your student is the person who needs to make the final decision. What seems like the absolutely ideal environment to you may just not feel right to your student. There is a reality to the chemistry that happens when a certain campus just plain “feels right”. However, even though you may be peripheral to this visit, there are some important ways in which you can be involved.
What should parents keep in mind about the college visit?
- First of all, do your homework. Read as much as you can about the school before you make the visit. This will allow you to put what you hear during your informational sessions and/or tour into perspective. You won’t need to waste time asking questions about things that you can research on the website or through other sources.
- Check the college website for a parent page or link. How much is there? This page may give you some insight into how the college views parents. Do they try to keep you informed? Are they willing to work with you? Do they simply want you to donate money to the college?
- Try to use your questions to get a sense of the life of the campus rather than simply statistical information. You may need to ask some specific questions about the admissions process or financial aid, but then focus on getting a feel for the real life of the school. This sense of place is one of the primary benefits of the campus visit.
- Encourage your student to ask as many questions as he can. College admissions personnel and campus tour guides count on students asking questions about the things that are important to them. Try to help your student be involved by anticipating some things she can ask about. Having a few questions ready beforehand may help.
- Remember that there are two different types of questions that you might ask. Some questions may be questions that you wish your student would ask, but that she doesn’t. Some students are very nervous about the admissions process and simply won’t ask questions. So you may need to ask a question; and your student may appreciate that you do ask. The other type of question you may ask is for specific information that you, as a parent, need.
- Ask different questions of different people. Some questions should be asked of campus tour guides, who are usually students, and some questions may need to be addressed to college staff members or admissions personnel. Don’t hesitate to ask for some time with a staff member if you have questions that should be addressed by someone other than a student tourguide.
- There is no such thing as a stupid question. If you need information about some aspect of the college, ask the question. Some questions have been asked hundreds of times. But admissions personnel recognize that, although they have heard the question before, this is a new process for you. Gather as much information as you need.
- There is no such thing as a bad answer to a question. Each answer that you get is simply one more piece of information. You and your student will need to put all of the pieces together to get a complete picture of the college.
- Remember that college personnel will work very hard not to give an answer that puts the college in a negative light. It may be important that you think carefully about how you word a question, and then that you read carefully between the lines of the answer that you get.
- Try to frame your questions about what the college does rather than what they have. It may be less important that you know how many books the library has, and more important that you know how many students work on major research projects. You may not need to know how many PhDs the college has, but you may want to know how many students have opportunities to work together with faculty members on projects or how many sections of classes are taught by graduate students.
Being prepared, and giving some thought to what information is important to you, will help you and your student make the most of a college visit. Talking about the process with your student ahead of the visit will not only help you both to be prepared, but will help you understand your student a bit more and help you both explore what is important to your student.
Once you are ready for the visit, it will be important that you ask productive questions. Our next post, Parents and College Admissions: What to Ask During Your Campus Visit will help you to ask some helpful questions in order to gather the most useful information.