One of the most important aspects of the college planning process is visiting college campuses. Your child needs to make in-person visits so he can get a feel for the campus atmosphere and talk with current students, professors, coaches, admissions officers, etc. As a parent, you should accompany your child on these visits so you can get a feel for the campus as well. You will be able to ask questions about campus safety, financial aid, meal plans, health services, etc. Here's a guide to help you plan a campus visiting schedule.
Choose the Dates
The ideal times to visit colleges are the spring of your child's junior year and/or the fall of his senior year. These times are best because campuses are full of student activity. (Note: If provided with appropriate documentation, most high schools will count the time away from school as an educational trip rather than an absence. Check with your child's high school for more details.) The summer is also an appropriate time to visit campuses because there is still some student activity due to summer semesters. You may even consider incorporating college visits during a family vacation. The best days to visit are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Weekends are not good options because no classes are held. Also, avoid visits during exam time or holiday breaks. Be sure to call ahead and check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visit/interview policies.
Create an Itinerary
Once you know the schedule of available tour times and have an idea of when you can go, begin creating an itinerary. You and your child may want to start out small by making a few day trips to colleges close to home. By visiting different colleges (i.e. small, large, public, private, etc.) that are close to home, your child will be able to see what he likes and doesn't like and may be able to rule out some colleges that are farther away. Be sure to make long trips efficient by planning several visits along the route. Plan to spend a half-day at each campus your child wants to visit. Figure out driving distances between schools so you can determine which schools to visit on the same day.
Schedule Tour/Interview Appointments
When you have a tentative itinerary, you and your child can begin calling colleges to schedule the visits. If your child wants to participate in an official campus tour, interview with the admissions office, coaches, professors, etc., or stay overnight in a dorm room, he will need to make appointments in advance because walk-in appointments are rarely available. At the very least, appointments should be made two weeks prior to the date of the visit.
Make Travel/Hotel Arrangements
Once you have set appointments with the schools, you can begin making travel and hotel arrangements. If traveling by plane, take advantage of last minute ticket deals (if schedule allows) by signing up on sites like priceline.com to have fare watcher alerts sent to your e-mail. You'll also want to go ahead and reserve car rentals for easy pickup. If traveling by car, make sure to get a tune-up prior to the trip to ensure a safe and smooth ride. Be sure to bring a GPS or print off directions to every school your student wants to visit. When making hotel accommodations, check with the schools first to see if local hotels offer discounts to families visiting area colleges.
If you plan ahead, mapping out a schedule for campus visits should be relatively easy. Just be aware of how much you and your child can reasonably accomplish during the visits. If the trip needs to be canceled or rescheduled, be sure to call the school(s) as soon as possible. Remember if your child can't visit a school in person, he can always take a free virtual tour of the campus. For more information read Tips for Visiting College Campuses.