College Tours: When Is the Right Time?

By Christine Chapman, Educational Consultant

It’s never too early to get out to visit college campuses, as far as I am concerned. In fact, I’ve been dragging my own kiddos around college campuses since they were little, even if it is a simple drive-by or drive-through of campus. I think that’s one of the reasons that the idea of college isn’t so overwhelming and daunting to them…yet.  

With the potential cost of a college education in the United States today at almost $70,000.00 per year at some private universities, and the industry that now surrounds the college admissions process (my own business included) my advice to parents is to get kids out there, looking sooner rather than later. Contrary to popular belief and practice, I believe that students should have some exposure to what a college campus may look and feel like…even as 8th and 9th graders. Here’s why.


Looking for the right college/university fit is made infinitely more possible when you know what you are looking for and can understand the different types of colleges out there before beginning to do deeper research.

What is your student looking for? Will he/she be happiest in a small liberal arts environment, a big state university? A private university? Is your student interested in an urban environment? A college town? Some initial visits to a variety of schools of differing approaches, sizes and location preferences (urban/rural college towns/suburbs, etc.) will help you better understand what your student might be drawn to.


Starting the college visit process early compels students to start doing some soul-searching about what he/she is interested in studying, and also helps them to start defining their own college search criteria by way of better understanding campus cultures, specific philosophical approaches, different curricular approaches and special programs that may be of interest to them.

Is there a core curriculum? Are most students commuters versus campus residents? Are there specific programs that really draws your student to a particular campus option–whether it is a plethora of research opportunities or co-op programs or robust study abroad options? Are certain schools well-known for particular major areas of study? Is there a particular course in an academic subject area that seems different? Interesting? Are there particular clubs or student organizations that stand out as unique opportunities?     


Starting the college visit process early helps students to begin setting goals for themselves in terms of understanding what colleges are seeking in considering applicants for admission.  

Do students apply EA? ED? Priority? Do they require standardized test scores or are they score optional? Do they require the SAT or ACT with or without writing? Subject tests? Do they have a specific program your student might be interested in? What percentage of their applicants do they accept? Do they monitor shows of interest? Knowing all of this helps students to understand what these institutions look for and helps these students with goal setting. I think it forces students to do some goal setting which I believe is helpful and necessary.  

So, whether your child is a freshman or sophomore, there’s value in visiting early. If you ascribe to the notion that knowledge is power, and that even the most daunting tasks feel a little less overwhelming when you know what to expect, then I suggest you expose your children to as many college campuses as feels comfortable. We have so many here in our local area to begin exploring without it costing a fortune. 

The college process is a rite of passage. Our high school students start thinking about the future long before the summer between sophomore and junior year. Don’t be afraid to start visiting sooner rather than later, and expect that your student might set foot on 7 or 8 campuses before they find one they really like. That’s okay. It’s part of the process. Keep it low-key and allow for it to be a process of acquiring data, of “window-shopping” and offering the impetus for further exploration. And if I can offer a word of advice? Take notes, start a spreadsheet…and make use of the data so it can serve your student as you walk through the college search process with him/her. 

You’ll be glad you started early when you have a short list that is balanced and well thought-out. And if you need some help or advice along the way, don’t be a stranger. We’re here to help.

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