January 1st rolled around and we were thrilled that #1 Son had successfully completed 7 college applications as well as a couple of additional scholarship applications. Now we thought, here comes the easy part! Wrong….. Unlike some of his friends who applied under binding Early Decision programs, #1 Son didn’t have a single favorite college when he did his applications and wanted to keep his options open a while longer. As a result he applied using a mix of non-binding Early Action and Regular decision programs that don’t require a commitment until May 1. (see our previous article about college applications for more details on the nuances of these various programs)
Among his friends, two or three teens have already locked in their Early Decision favorites, but most are playing the waiting game. With May 1st just a little over 2 months away, many students like #1 Son have several non-binding early acceptances under their belts and are waiting on several Regular Decision notifications – but still don’t know where they want to go. As a result, many college bound teens are hastily organizing yet another round of college visits in order to attend Accepted Student days that are designed to help them make that final decision.
Unlike earlier visits, which often took place on beautiful sunny summer or fall vacation days when campuses had few students in residence, these revisits will take place under drab winter skys when the campuses are full of students. In some cases, they will involve overnight stays with complete strangers in the student dorms. Most will include the opportunity to sit in on classes, eat in the cafeteria and learn more about the details of the academic programs.
In preparing for these visits, we’ve been putting together a checklist of things to do and questions to ask to get the most out of limited time on campus:
- Understand the Academic Program: Before the visit, make sure your teen spends some time really digging into the school’s web site and the specific details of his or her intended major. How did he overlook the fact that the political science major he applied for requires 4 semester of a foreign language but the business major he originally thought about doesn’t require any! Have him make a list of questions to ask so he can accurately evaluate the academic requirements, understand the feasibility of taking a second major if desired and assess whether he is comfortable with the school’s core requirements. Academic requirements can vary widely from school to school, yet many kids overlook the details early in the process.
- Develop A Rating System for What Matters Most: Think about what factors are most important and create some kind of scale on which to rate the schools on a consistent basis. Have concerns about campus safety? Quality of the dorms or food? And what about that 60/40 girls to guys ratio? Have the teen make a list of what really matters to him, so he can make a point to honestly assess these factors at each school.
- Craft Key Questions for Current Students: Think about how to get a realistic assessment from current students. Going back to the list of critical factors – come up with one or two questions to help get an honest reaction. Think about asking the students whether they have to lock their windows during the day when they leave the dorm if you have safety concerns. If an active weekend social life is important ask the students what they did for fun each of the last several weekends.
- Consider What You Need to Know About the Dorms: are single sex dorms important? Wellness housing? Does your teen want dorm based classes that let him get to know the kids his is living with in an academic setting? If there is a chance to stay over in a dorm definitely do so and ask lots of questions about why students picked the dorms they are in and what they liked and didn’t like about them.
- Explore on Your Own: Plan to arrive early or stay late and build in some time for the teen to just walk around the campus on his own and see if it feels like a good fit. The general vibe is important.
- Split Up: If mom or dad is going to the revisit day, plan to split up. The teen is going to be navigating the campus on their own soon enough and the schools are usually pretty good about keeping them from getting lost. The teen will get a very different picture of things on their own compared to when the parents are present.
- Write Down Specific Questions for Administrators: Make a list of specific questions about policies and programs that are important to your teen and identify who is most likely to answer them. If the teen wasn’t invited into the honors program initially but is thinking of applying later, be sure to find out what it takes to get in and what percentage of students that apply as second semester freshmen are accepted. If mom and dad have questions for the financial aid office be sure those get answered too.
- Plan to debrief and have the teen write down ratings soon after leaving campus. Particularly if your teen is doing several revisit days in a short timeframe its important to have a record of his or her impressions before things get confused.
Our regular readers know we value including teens in the planning process for any kind of travel, but, Accepted Student Revisit Days are one place where the teen needs to lead the conversation. Parents can help by making sure the teen has spent some time thinking about how to best assess the options, but in the end the teen needs to own the process and be happy with the outcome. We know that millions of families survive this process every year – let us know what worked for you and your teen!