Category Archives: Campus Visits

What we talk about when we talk about college: an early decision.

“Do we talk about anything other than college these days?”

Our daughter, Mod Squad Julie, asked me that over dinner last weekend, before adding, “It’s okay, that’s about all I’m thinking about anyway.”

Alarm Clock

Is it too early?

Early in the morning, two days before that dinner, Julie and I set out on one more college visit. I cannot say that will be our last campus visit, but it is the last we will undertake before she submits her first application.

Julie wanted to revisit this campus with a number of questions in mind:

  • Could she see herself there as a student?
  • Did she feel comfortable in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus?
  • Where do first year students live?
  • How close is that to the center of campus?
  • Does she like the dorms?
  • What does the student body look like, in terms of diversity, dress, attitude?
  • How studious are they? Or, do they seem to be?
  • How does that fit with what she is looking for?
  • Was this college still her first choice?
  • Does she still love it enough to apply Early Decision?

My task was straightforward:  help her find the answers to her questions.

Our job as parents isn’t to make this decision for her.  But we want to help make sure she has asked enough questions of the school and of her own reactions to the school so that she can make an informed decision. That’s not to say we don’t have any input, but our input on the decision was provided long ago when we three–parents and daughter–discussed the characteristics of her list of colleges and what made the most sense to all of us. We’ve agreed on the short list; this is about the shortest list, a list of one.

“Do you like it? What do you think? Look what I see when I step out of the dorm!”

Campus tours weren’t offered during Julie’s initial visit due to our timing–we visited immediately before commencement weekend. We had listened to the admissions information session, Julie met with a department chair, and then a 2013 graduate showed us around another department’s facilities. There was more than enough to snare Julie’s interest. Now, five months later–a long time in the life of a teenager–was she still that interested?

This visit, we walked the neighborhood in all directions, located the first year dorms, peeked into the dining hall, sat in on a class, and took the official tour.

“I’m looking for where I could hang out on my own. If I need space, where would I go?”

Is it too early to decide?  Last year, I offered a nephew three reasons to apply early:

  1. Gain a huge sense of accomplishment by seeing one application through to the end,
  2. Get the Common App interface figured out by seeing one application through to the end, and
  3. Receive an early response.

This year’s Common App, with its numerous glitches for both students and colleges, could make the application completion feel even sweeter. But there are a few other considerations for applying early:  Do the student’s grades and accomplishments through junior year support a strong application? Is the student’s SAT or ACT testing complete? Does the student have time to complete applications by, well, right about now?

Many colleges offer either Early Action or Early Decision, not both. Early Decision adds more heft to the question, since that application requires the student, parent, and guidance counselor to commit that, if offered admission, the student will accept, and there are significant financial aid considerations. Since Julie’s college of choice only offers Early Decision, her follow-up questions boil down to:  Am I ready to commit now?

A couple of  years ago Julie loved a different college and talking of applying there Early Decision, but her interest stemmed mainly from attending a musical theatre camp there in seventh grade.

This time is different. Almost every aspect of this school offers a strong connection to her interests. While still on campus during the first visit she drafted a list of why she wanted to attend. Julie’s visit last week confirmed and strengthened her choice. The academics, the campus, advising, class sizes, location, challenge:  they are what she wants.

Now we walk a fine line together, of loving a college yet trying not to love it too much, because no matter how strong the student, how compelling the application, there are no guarantees. While she awaits the outcome, I’ll try to help her stay away from College Confidential, and I’ll try to stop myself from reminding her she’ll thrive wherever she ends up.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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Three big reasons to visit colleges during Private College Week

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia offers three very compelling reasons to visit participating colleges next week:  three application fee waivers.


“Washington College at Lexington,” by Henry Howe. NYPL Digital Collection.

July 29th – August 2nd has been named Virginia Private College Week by the Council, and they offer a pretty sweet deal: Visit any three of the twenty-four participating colleges during the week and you will receive three application fee waivers for any three Virginia private colleges of your choice.

What’s in it for you:  Potential savings of $150 or so + more information from colleges that interest you. Nothing beats a college visit for getting a feel for the school.

What’s in it for them:  Colleges really want you to visit their campuses. You will hear their best pitch. You might accept their story on how and why their school is the best for you. You might decide that private colleges compare favorably to public universities. You might fall in love with their school. You might apply and, by boosting application numbers, help drive selectivity ratings, which help increase US News & World Report ratings.*

Here’s the list of participating colleges and universities:

  • Averett University
  • Bluefield College
  • Bridgewater College
  • Eastern Mennonite University
  • Emory & Henry College
  • Ferrum College
  • Hampden-Sydney College
  • Hampton University
  • Hollins University
  • Jefferson College of Health Sciences
  • Liberty University
  • Lynchburg College
  • Mary Baldwin College
  • Marymount University
  • Randolph College
  • Randolph-Macon College
  • Roanoke College
  • Shenandoah University
  • Sweet Briar College
  • University of Richmond
  • Virginia Intermont College
  • Virginia Union University
  • Virginia Wesleyan College
  • Washington and Lee University

Learn more at Virginia Private College Week. They provide profiles of each of the member colleges and specific information about scheduled information sessions.

This is simply a public service announcement. Do any other states offer something like this?

I wish we could take advantage of it, but Mod Squad Julie is finishing up an internship and the rest of us are trying to get our work (and play and summer reading assignments) done to head out of town for a family reunion. And maybe write a post about college essays if there’s time…

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Sending emails to strangers. At colleges. Asking for appointments.

Here’s one more reason why the college admissions process is so complicated for high school students:  at some point, after years of only emailing friends, family, and familiar teachers, your parents may insist that you sit down right now and send an email to strangers.

Right now, because this has likely been discussed a number of times over the past few weeks.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn't have to write emails.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn’t have to write emails.

Right now, because you need to request an appointment with someone in the department of interest while you’re visiting the college.

Right now, because the college visit is next week.

Yes, I know it would have been better if you had written last week, but it will be better if you write tonight instead of putting it off any longer.

No, you don’t know the specific person to ask — you need to look up the department and make your best guess.

Yes, it may be a different title in each department.

Yes, you may send a similar email to any number of people, but each needs to be sent to an individual, not to a group list.

Yes, it may happen that you don’t end up with any meetings.

Yes, you may end up meeting with someone in a department that ends up not being of interest to you.

Yes, you do need to write a few good things about yourself and what sort of student you are.

Yes, I do think you can figure out a way to say those good things without sounding like a braggart.

No, we will not write these for you, but we will read your drafts.

Yes, you can copy these and edit them to use again.

Yes, you do need also to write the Dean of Admissions who has sent you multiple emails, even though she has sent those emails to thousands of students. You can let her know you will be visiting and ask her advice about how best to spend your time while on campus.

Yes, you will have to do this again.

Yes, it gets easier with every email you write.

Just like this college thing gets a bit easier the second time around.

Why are college and scholarship applications so complicated?


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College decision month: Who should attend an Admitted Student event?

Mod Squad Pete, for one.

Mod Squad Pete, Admitted Student.

I guess I’ll expand on that and say, any admitted student who can.
Here’s why…

1.  The college has loads of information to share about new student timelines, orientation, policies, payments, and much more.

2.  Access to that information — in person — provides the opportunity to ask questions about any confusing details.

3.  No matter how many details are provided in the college website, the people working with first year students tend to be warm and engaging folks who help explain important aspects with memorable stories, whether amusing anecdotes or cautionary tales.

4.  The campus just plain feels different to an admitted student than to a wannabe.

5.  An admitted student who has already made his or her decision will be able to ask very specific questions, visit a dorm they may end up living in, and start making connections with profs.

6.  An undecided admitted student has even more reason to attend and ask questions. Every part of the event provides more data — whether good, bad or neutral — to aid the decision-making.

Early evening, April in DC.

And here’s why it was important for Pete to attend.

While we’ve done what we could to keep open minds about his college short list, we’ve realized that over the past few months, Pete, Mod Squad Dad, and I had all been imagining Pete at one particular school next year.

We all thought it was his favorite. These mostly unspoken, yet shared, thoughts fueled Pete’s mild disinterest in visiting all four admitted day events.

Until the event came for that particular school, and he gathered enough data to decide, perhaps:  it’s not the one.

Which moved him, on or around mid-April, back to an open decision. Hello, flipcharts, hadn’t seen you in a while!

[Reminder to self from a recent post:  Every admitted-student event brings with it the possibility that this is, or isn’t, the college Pete will choose.]

Meanwhile, have you noticed? There are not many days left in April.

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College decision month: 13 things we learned at an admitted-student event.

Washington monument 1

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this week, Mod Squad Pete and I went on an eight-hour door-to-door journey —  for a sandwich and a two-hour event held in DC and five hours in the car.

There had been some discussion in this house about whether the event would be worth the trip, especially since it was on a weeknight.

Here’s what we learned. You tell me: was it worth it?

  1. While we thought we’d completed all financial aid forms, turns out there’s a very good reason we had not received any information back from this college. [There’s one more.]
  2. If Pete chooses this college, he needs to reserve housing by June 18.
  3. If Pete chooses this college, he needs to do some major research on the course calendar, select courses, and be ready to register on June 18.
  4. … for both the Fall and Winter semesters.
  5. If you give Pete a pen and a pad of paper with your college logo, at some point during the presentation he will write, “I want to go home.’
  6. Housing choices vary from shared houses with 17 people to high-rises with hundreds and hundreds.
  7. A very nice admissions officer who answers questions as completely as possible is both a good and a bad thing.
  8. If before the event, you’re sitting at the sandwich shop and Pete says, “I’m really looking forward to this,” he’s talking about the food, not the event.
  9. You are much more likely to ask questions at admitted-student events when it’s a college you think is your senior’s favorite.
  10. That ‘answer all the possible questions’ admissions officer? When she’s surrounded by a scrum of parents and students after the presentation, they will have to wait so long for questions to be answered, that when it gets to be their turn and they’ve asked all the questions they had, they will start making up more questions. Really.
  11. Every admitted-student event brings with it the possibility that this is, or isn’t, the college Pete will choose.
  12. Pete follows the same path he did at admissions info sessions:  always chooses the front row.
  13. One way admitted-student events differ from admissions info sessions, according to Pete: “This feels different. You’re no longer trying to decide if you have a better chance than the next person. We’re all in!”

I see a flipchart with pros and cons in our very near future.

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College decision month: Virtual visits?


Mod Squad Pete. And a tee shirt to be named later.

As I wrote earlier, we’re going back to a couple of college campuses this week to attend Admitted Student events, take a second (or third) look around, and ask questions.

One of Mod Squad Pete’s colleges is too far away to revisit. He’s been there twice: 1) prior to his junior year, for the full admissions tour; 2) two months ago for an audition. (He’s been accepted into one program there; awaits word from another). That school has invited Pete to attend a midweek evening event (about 120 miles away, but 600 miles closer than campus).  Here’s what’s on offer:

The event begins with a presentation on everything that  ___ U. has to offer. Topics include: housing, course selection and registration, campus life, work and extracurricular opportunities, and living in ___. Following the presentation, recent graduates will share their  ___ U. stories. The event will wrap up with a Question & Answer period.

Will that event, lasting around 90 minutes, be worth the five-hour round trip? More important to Pete, is it worth missing a track meet?

If this is the school, I’d say yes, especially given the distance. We’ll see.

If this event weren’t available, we could — and yes, even with this event, we may — avail ourselves of virtual tours and social media connections. Throughout the entire admissions process we’ve learned a great deal via blogs and tweets from colleges.

On Smart College Visit, Z. Kelly Queijo offers 8 Easy Steps to Create Your Own Virtual College Visit. Here are a few:

  • College Newspaper. Read it online or even subscribe for a while. You’ll definitely find out more about campus life.
  • College/University Blogs. If not immediately obvious from the school’s web site, use the search tool to find admissions or student blogs. There may even be a college/university president’s blog.
  • College Twitter Accounts. News, admissions, sports, events, professors, student organizations…follow the accounts representing what you think will be important to you if enrolled. You can always unfollow later.

All great ideas.

Meanwhile, our hometown University has been making social connections on Pinterest. See Pinterest 101 Courtesy of the University of Virginia for a glimpse of boards they’ve created to connect with students, alumni and — I’d bet — prospective students.

That’s a much better resource than the Fake [college president] Twitter accounts Jenna Johnson wrote about in the Washington Post!

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College decision month: time to revisit campuses

April 2012

April 2012; calendar by Mod Squad Julie.

I paid close attention to college news last year at this time, thinking about April of Mod Squad Pete’s senior year.

After months of working on applications, and weeks-to-months of waiting to hear, April 1 typically launches the very short season for making the college decision. Which college to choose? How to make that decision? Once again, Pete’s deadline looms:  Decisions and housing deposits are due May 1st.

I inserted “typically” above for these exceptions:

  • Early Decision applicants agreed long ago to attend if accepted.
  • Some Early Action applications may have accepted college offers already.
  • A few decisions, such as the final one Pete awaits, may not have been sent.

Pete’s final decision involves hearing back from an audition, which I wrote about here. He was told he’d hear early April, so let’s see, that should be any day now, right?

In the meantime, the four colleges that have offered admittance to Pete have invited him to come take another look. He revisited one campus in March, including participating in an interview for a scholarship.

He will connect with the other three colleges in the next eight days, including two Admitted-Student campus events and one Admitted-Student off-campus event (for students at a distance from the campus).

Making the decision to attend these was not a given. Pete’s interested, to be sure, yet he’s also busy with track practices and meets, a part-time job, a heavy academic load, and — have I mentioned this before? — countless hours perfecting dub-step mixes, skateboard tricks, and piano improv bits.

We’ve encouraged him to visit, ask questions, and listen to their pitches. Meanwhile, with help from these writers, I’m trying to compile our list of questions:

1.  Z. Kelly Queijo’s Smart College Visit website offers travel widgets and campus guides that many parents and students will find useful. Recently, Kelly wrote “Questions to ask on the Admitted Student Capmus Visit.” [Kelly also asked me to contribute a question or two.] Here are a few of the questions to ask the college; Kelly also includes questions for the student to ask him/herself:

Academics (will it work for me?)

  1. What happens if I change my major?
  2. How will I obtain credit for AP, IB and/or college level courses completed?
  3. What leadership opportunities does the honors program offer?
  4. Are there internship or study abroad opportunities for my major?
  5. Here is what I’m interested in studying… Can I put together this sort of interdisciplinary program here?

2.  On EdWeek’s College Bound blog, Caralee Adams writes “What to Look for When Revisiting a College Campus This Month.” She provides excellent advice; I’d recommend reading the entire post. Here are a couple of clips:

“…This time, figure out if you can actually fit in there,” she says.

Eat in the cafeteria. Find out how often you would meet with your adviser. Look into whether you would get home on breaks by car, bus, or train. Pay attention to the housing options and consider if you will be comfortable in a room for four. “These kids are used to having their own rooms, cars, and bathroom. The conveniences of home are very different,” says Poznanski.

On the transition from supplicant to recruit:

Sarah McGinty, an independent educational consultant in Boston and author of “The College Application Essay” published by the College Board, says on a second visit, the student has moved from the supplicant role to someone with up to $200,000 to spend. And it’s time to ask seriously: Is this where I want to spend my money?

All schools have libraries, student centers, and study-abroad programs, but it often comes down to a feeling of whether the campus is somewhere the students can make friends. “It translates into something quite unquantifiable,” she says. “In the end, it’s an emotional decision, not a logical one.”

3.  US News & World Report‘s Education blog periodically offers posts from the mother-daughter team of Julie and Lindsey Mayfield via Twice the College Advice. Their “Ask 4 Questions About College Resources” includes these:

  1. How will you help my child adjust to college?
  2. What specifically does your career center to do help students find jobs?
  3. What sets your college apart from others like it?
  4. What are some of the resources this university offers to freshmen?

4.  Also from US News & World Report‘s Education blog, Katy Hopkins writes, 10 Steps to Picking the Right School, including:

3.  Go back to school. While you should have gotten a feel for college life during an initial campus visit, take another trip to schools and bring 10 to 15 detailed questions, says Bob Roth, author of College Success: Advice for Parents of High School Students. Don’t leave with any questions unanswered.

There’s our mission, Pete:  No questions unanswered. No stone unturned. [And, please, no dub-step for the road-trips!]

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