Admitted Student Day, Autumn Preview Day, Honors College Day, personal visits and overnight visits — these are just some of the many types of visit programs colleges and universities are offering prospective students these days. It can be overwhelming to choose which type of campus visit is best suited for your student and his or her interests. While larger schools may tend to offer more open houses and visit programs, smaller schools can accommodate more personal or individual visits. Don’t be discouraged if a school only offers three or four open house visit days a year; ask about the other types of visit options they offer. Here are the different options to help you figure out which is the best one for your student based on where he or she is at in the college search process.
The popular “open house” is like a buffet of activities that you choose from. It may include campus tours, sessions about areas of academic study with faculty, financial aid, study abroad, special programs, the admission process and university overview and lunch. Not all schools are able to have faculty at their open houses, so if that is something your student wants to accomplish from his college visit, you might want to look into a personal visit to arrange this appointment.
An open house can last anywhere from four to six hours. If your student’s schedule is very busy and they cannot seem to get away and take a day off of school, I would suggest exploring open houses — many of them are on Saturdays, Columbus Day, or President’s Day. The open house provides a great overview and introduction to the university for families. It allows students to learn what their likes and dislikes are, as well as help them create a list of qualities they are looking for in a college or university, and which schools to apply to in the future. I would recommend open houses to anyone in high school, but seniors should try to visit at the beginning of the school year. If you have a student who has a long list of schools she is interested in, encourage her to start visiting college campuses earlier in her high school career. It’s never too early to start. Take advantage of summer and Saturday open houses. Many students are only permitted so many college visit days from schools.
The personal or individual visit is just what it sounds like. If your student has narrowed down his or her list of schools, this type of visit can really be beneficial. If a student wants to observe a class, meet with a professor or wants a smaller tour group, I would suggest a personal visit. This allows families to ask more questions without being surrounded by hundreds of other people. Most schools prefer two-to-three weeks’ notice for a personal visit. They want to ensure that you have a quality experience. Keep in mind there will be some wait time involved since students have to reach out and hear back from busy professors about class and faculty appointments but I promise it will be worth the wait. If a student attended an open house visit first and then chooses to come back to the school for a second trip for a personal visit, it allows him or her to look a little closer and really see if the school is the right fit.
Overnight visits are perfect for discovering the best fit for a student. It allows high school students to experience what it is like to be a Valpo Crusader or UK Wildcat or Michigan State Spartan. The prospective student stays overnight on campus in one of the residence halls with a current student and has the opportunity to see the social side of the college experience, as well as get a college student’s perspective about what it is like to attend that school. This is what I consider the make-or-break deal for a prospective student and his or her choice of whether or not to enroll at that college. If a high school senior is on the fence between two schools, find out if both offer overnight visits, and if they do, schedule them. I can almost guarantee it will help that student make a final college decision.
Pretty, colorful brochures and flashy websites with fun videos are great, but the college campus visit is the best way to help a prospective student find his or her college fit. Seeing, feeling and experiencing a college campus provides a student with so much more information and plays a vital role in a student’s final college decision.
Nicole Graham Martinez, M.A.L.S., is Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Valparaiso University.