College Visits: Now or Later?

A few months ago, one of my Twitter followers posed an interesting question to me about college visits. Since that time, I’ve been thinking that his question, along with my response, would be very helpful to other students and their families, and thought it would make sense to post it where many would be able to benefit from the information.

A dad of a high school junior had taken his son on his first series of campus visits to five or six colleges. After returning home, he discussed with his son all that they had seen and experienced. After their conversation, the dad reported that not one of the schools that they had visited was a clear favorite or number one choice for his son. His question: since that was the case, did it makes sense for them to continue to visit additional colleges now—or would it make more sense for them to wait to see where he would be accepted before making any additional campus visits? Why take the time if there might be a chance that again no one school would rise to the top?

Based on the size of most of the initial college lists that I’ve seen, they’re just too big to be able to visit every college before submitting applications. However, I do recommend that students try to visit as many colleges as they can—for several reasons.

Let’s take the first scenario. Did you know that research continues to show that college visits are the best method for introducing students to college? Many students take their first college trips when they are just beginning to seriously think about the college experience. Yes, they may have talked about college with parents, teachers, coaches and others, but they may not have thought beyond that—or may never have stepped foot on a college campus. Exploring colleges for the first time gives them an opportunity to discover a bit more about themselves—in ways they may have never thought about. By visiting an array of colleges on this first trip, they can get a feel for a variety of college communities. For example, it might make sense to visit a small liberal arts college in a suburban or even rural area along with one that is situated in or near a city. Perhaps also include a visit to a couple of campuses with larger undergraduate enrollment-some that are integrated into a city and others that are perhaps within the city limits but have a very defined and separate campus. Chances are, after a few visits and now having a base of comparison, your son or daughter will start to develop some specific preferences. They’ll go back to their list and have a better idea of which schools they’d like to (or not) visit the next time around.

For those families that have done an initial set of campus visits, the second trip may be more in-depth. At this point, your teen probably has a clearer picture of what type of campus might be the most comfortable for him—based on both his learning style and style of living. He should have also by this point done some additional research about the academics and student life at the schools on his list and may want to get more one-on-one feedback. Meetings on campuses with department faculty members or advisors, lunch or coffee with students involved in a club that you’re teen is interested in and/or face time with an athletic coach or music director can all help your teen get a better sense of what each college has to offer—and he can compare what he’s seen from one college community to another. At this point, there is a good chance that he’ll want to take at least one or two schools off his list, and chances are there will be one or two colleges that will rise to the top.

As you can probably surmise, I told this dad yes—by all means plan a second set of college visits. By doing so, you will enable him to get a better sense of the type of campus where he will feel most comfortable and most apt to engage with the community around him.

Janice Caine is the CEO and Founder of Custom College Visits, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. She works with families from all regions of the US as well as those from overseas to plan personalized college road trips geared toward the specific interests of each student. Her clients visit the colleges and universities of their choosing, and vary from Ivies to small liberal arts colleges, to large and public universities. For information about Custom College Visits, visit the website at


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