A Variety of Choices
Consider visiting a state college, a private secular college, and a Christian college so your student can understand the differences. Visit local and distant colleges, whether she wants to go far away or stay close to home. At 17 years old, she most likely doesn’t fully understand her capacity for this new endeavor, so show her the options. When she is on a campus in a faraway state and sees students from all over the country, her world will suddenly expand as she realizes that students her age venture out for the purpose of higher education. And besides, once she’s launched, she can always come back home.
The private secular colleges (i.e., those that may have begun as Christian colleges but have shifted from using the Bible as their guiding principle) usually have a specific academic focus, like a math and science college or a liberal arts college. The larger private secular institutions may have several or many strengths (e.g., Harvard, Stanford, and Hamline).
Students should have a local choice in case of the unexpected, for example, an injury just before leaving for college requiring surgery, physical therapy appointments, and crutches. Yep, it’s happened to us. Also, have a distant choice to which she applies in case during her senior year, she discovers her adventurous side and wants to go farther from home.
In order to get a full picture of a college, plan on four to six hours for the visit. College preview days give a general sense of the college campus and atmosphere, but in order to get a personalized view, schedule a visit with the admissions office on a normal school day. Include these items in your visit:
- Campus tour
- Attend Chapel (if offered)
- The student attends a class in the student’s major (parents skip this)
- Eat a meal on campus
- Meet with the dean of the department in which the student is interested (or a professor)
- Meet with the registrar’s office to discuss the treatment of the PSEO credits (if applicable)
- Meet with the financial aid director or counselor to discuss the true cost of the college
Each of these items is very important to include in your visit if it is a college in which your student has serious interest. For example, when we visited a state school but my kid wasn’t really interested in it, we kept the visit short and light—just a tour and a meeting. However, if we travelled long and far to visit a school in which they were highly interested, I scheduled all of these items (although I did cancel out halfway through the day on one of them when it was clear that it wasn’t the right fit).
Questions for each step of the Visit
- During the Tour, look for the following features. If they aren’t obvious, then ask the tour guide:
- Is there a tutoring center? Ask to see it, check the hours it is open, and see who is running it.
- See a dorm room. How many students share a bathroom? Who is responsible for cleaning it? How are roommates chosen? What is the procedure for changing roommates?
- Where do students hang out? Relax? Study?
- What are weekends like on campus? Is the cafeteria and coffee shop open on weekends?
- Notice the dress code.
- During the class, the student can observe:
- The behavior of the students.
- Are they interested in the material, and do they understand it?
- Do they interact with the professor?
- Do they respect the professor and other students?
- The behavior of the students.
i. Does the professor care if the students are learning?
ii. Is the professor easy to follow and understand?
iii. Does the professor use the class time in a valuable way?
iv. What equipment is available in the classrooms?
3. During the meal, the parent and student can observe:
- The behavior of the students.
- Is the food and dining atmosphere pleasant and appealing?
- Do the staff and faculty members eat in the same dining room with the students?
b. Accreditation. Is the department accredited and by which organizations? For example, the engineering department might be accredited in general engineering, but not specifically in electrical engineering. As a result, the students earn an engineering degree with an emphasis in electrical, which is not as valuable as an accredited electrical engineering degree. As long as you are going to spend the time and money getting an education, you might as well get the best quality. Colleges in the process of getting accredited are not accredited; watch the language.
c. Career Options. Ask specific questions like, “When I graduate with my degree in education, will I be able to teach third grade art in a public school in Minnesota?”…or whatever it is that you want to do. Ask a variety of these “will I be able to…” questions to get an idea of the scope of the degree.
d. Changing majors within the department. “About 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once... On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.” As a result, it is important to be sure the department has a variety of majors to choose from. Discuss with the department representative the ease and difficulties of changing majors within the department at different stages of the education process. (Changing to another department is a topic to discuss with the registrar because of the complexities).
e. Grad School. Your student might love what she’s learning so much that she decides to go on to earn her graduate degree. Ask where students with this major have gone on to grad school.
3. During the Registrar meeting, review the PSEO credits that your student has earned and confirm how they satisfy each of the requirements at that university. This meeting will give you and the registrar an opportunity to put a face with a name for future emails or phone conversations you have regarding transferring PSEO credits. Also, make sure your student is on track for being accepted.
4. During the Financial Aid meeting, the director/counselor should be able to provide the best and worst case financial scenarios for your student. If he doesn’t come to the meeting prepared with this material, then he isn’t doing his job. This is his opportunity to “sell” his college; you shouldn’t have to drag the information out of him.
Analyze and Document
Create an evaluation form or have your student journal her thoughts immediately after the visit because after a week goes by and she has another college visit, her observations will start to blur. You can use a general form like this, or tailor one for her needs.
Campus Visit Evaluation
School:___________________________________________ Date: _____________
Impression of campus:
Impression of students:
Impression of professors and faculty:
Describe the campus: (woods, lake, cornfields, city, suburbs, bad part of town, nicely manicured, interesting buildings, modern buildings, out-of-date facilities, Sloppy/trashy, run-down, Clean, etc.)
What recreational facilities are available?
Where do students go to relax? To Study?
Describe the bookstore--
Describe the classrooms--
Describe the dining room and food--
Describe the dorm rooms--
What’s nearby campus? Stores, Parks, Churches
Do you think you could learn here? Why or why not?
Narrowing Down the Decision
During my kids’ senior years, we visited the college of their choice again in the spring, if it was possible, in order to help solidify their choice. This second visit gave them an opportunity to stay in the dorm for a night to get a real taste of the campus. It also provided us the opportunity to talk to the right department head (since it sometimes changed from eleventh grade to twelfth grade) and gave the student a chance to further develop her reality of her move to campus six months later.