Parents often ask me when they should start visiting colleges with their children and my answer is as soon as you can. This is especially true if you are traveling in another part of the country and have some time to go explore a campus. A couple of years ago a client of mine was on vacation and weather rerouted them to Detroit for an extended layover. This savvy mom took her kids to see the University of Michigan and fast-forward 4 years, one of her kids is finishing her sophomore year in Ann Arbor! Here are my reasons for getting your sophomore on a college campus:
1. They Will Get Excited-When a high school student steps on a college campus, they get to peek over the horizon and see what is coming down the road. They will see the dining hall with all-you-can-eat ice cream, incredible gyms, the freedom to select courses that correspond with their interests and hopefully a sense of the freedom and fun that comes with college. They will also have a luxurious amount of time to think about schools without having to make any decisions.
2. They Will Get Motivated-They say seeing is believing. School counselors, teachers and parents can talk until they are blue in the face about academic achievement but sometimes it sounds like the parents talking in the Peanuts movies. If your child steps foot on a campus that gets them a little bit excited (see #1) all of a sudden they have a tangible reason to focus on their academics. An excited student becomes a motivated student and they will understand why they need to work hard.
3. Athletics and Other Commitments-Obligations with athletics, clubs, youth groups, scouts, volunteer work, paid work, theater and music commitments is just a starting list of the many types of activities that the average college-bound kid has. When you look at the calendar and account for your child’s other commitments, you will see that trying to schedule a college visit can be complicated.
4. The List Needs to be Established Before Senior Year-When a kid starts high school, a parent might think they have four years to figure out the college question, but they really do not. If a student wants to return senior year with their applications complete, they must know where they are applying. In order to know where they want to apply, they need to have seen some campuses. Families can use senior year to continue to visit schools and many of my clients opt to add or delete schools from their list during senior year, but if you want a strong working list of schools, you ought to visit colleges well before 12th grade.
5. College Semesters Are Short-Once you have gone over your student’s schedule of obligations (see #3) and overlay your calendar on top of the college calendar, you might be in for a shock. Colleges tend to be in session from late August until early December and mid-January to early May. That is it. If you want your son or daughter to see a school when it is in session, you have a limited number of weeks. And to quote Gwyeth Smith, the school counselor profiled in Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges-and Find Themselves, “seeing a college campus that is not in session is like trying to buy a house that you have driven by but not gone inside”.
I always tell my students that nothing is stressful when you have enough time. The stress starts to build when deadlines loom and time runs short. Carolyn Pippen was an admissions counselor at Vanderbilt. She wrote an excellent piece in 2014, “Lessons From a Departing Admissions Counselor“. The takeaway is this quote, “The calmest and most organized students fare the best in this process.” One way to stay calm and organized is to see some colleges in 10th grade!