While I love living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, there is no doubt that our students are at a disadvantage when it comes to visiting colleges. It takes a lot of time and money to travel to other parts of our country. The first question junior families from Seattle often ask is “do we even need to visit colleges?” And the second question is “if so, where should we go?”
To answer the first question, no, you don’t need travel far to visit. There is a lot of information available online and by communicating via phone and email directly with the schools, both near and far. However, I always encourage students to visit at least a few of our local schools to get a feel for the various types and sizes of campuses. The University of Washington, Seattle University and University of Puget Sound are all very easy to visit on a Saturday morning or a day off from school. It is not necessary to visit every school on your list, prior to applying. Every year I work with students who don’t get a chance to visit any of the schools on their list until they are making their final decisions in April of senior year.
But if you are lucky enough to be able to take a trip, where should you go? Portland, Northern California, Southern California, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC? Obviously it would be impossible for most students to go to that many places. And, there are a number of schools that are not on the beaten path, but that might be very interesting to see. Rice in Houston, Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Emory in Atlanta, University of Rochester in Upstate New York….the list goes on and on.
Sometimes the decision is defined by a particular academic or extra-curricular interest. Yes, kids do sometimes build their lists around schools that have strong Ultimate Frisbee teams or Rock Climbing Clubs! Although I always make sure that those schools also offer the right level of academics.
Other times it is based on schools where the student is likely to receive merit-based aid or generous need-based financial aid.
It’s a tough question, but in some ways there is no wrong answer. Every school that you visit, whether or not you end up applying there, will give you more information about what you do or don’t want in your college experience. And I can help. I’ve visited over 100 schools, some of them multiple times. One school might not be exactly like another, but there are definitely similarities.
Also, try to keep an open mind. Students often tell me they want to be in a city, but many of those schools have a large commuter population and the schools empty out on weekends. And, depending on your major, it can sometimes be easier to get the classes you want at a small school than a big one.
Our spring break is a great time to visit, most colleges have their spring break in early March, so the students are generally on campus. Another excellent time to visit is the last week of August and first week of September, right before our kids go back to school. Many schools start their academic year in August and surprisingly, there are a number of schools that are even in session on Labor Day itself. If at all possible, visit when students are on campus, but if that won’t work, a summer visit can be helpful. Just remember that you won’t be seeing everything the college has to offer. As always, I'm here to help, if you need assistance figuring out which colleges to see or any other aspect of the college process. Just call or email!