A few years ago, my niece came out to visit and look at one of our local colleges. Since she had made a long trip, I scheduled her to visit three local schools, not just the one she was interested in. She didn’t like the other two schools; in fact, we left the third right at the start of the tour. What a waste of time, right? Wrong. She still tells me that it was really helpful to her to see that, just as there were schools she loved, there were also schools she didn’t want to attend. To many high school students any college seems great, but there are very few students for whom every possible college would be great.

I’m going to skip the whole “how important is the college visit?” debate and just tell you to visit colleges. Even if your student isn’t close to college age, go visit a college. Even better: if you have a family trip planned this summer, go visit a college while you’re on your trip. It doesn’t matter if it’s a college you’d never attend. Just go. And do it again on your next family trip. Why? A couple of reasons:

  • It’s eye-opening for students to see the variety of different schools. It’s likely that they don’t see such a range of facilities, settings and campuses among the high schools in their area. Some schools will feel very comfortable, others less so. When the time comes to choose a school, it’s important for students to get a sense of whether they’re a fit for it– if for no other reason than to help them find a school where they will stay for four years and complete their degree. Getting a sense that they like some schools and dislike others can be a huge help in this process.
  • It might broaden, and it might narrow, the list of schools they will consider when they do go to apply. Both of those have pros and cons! A student who believes, based on visits, that he won’t be happy in an urban setting can save himself a great deal of expense by not applying to urban schools. And even greater expense by not attending a school that he’ll end up leaving. Similarly, a student who falls in love with a school she had never heard of until she visited it on her family’s trip to the east coast might find herself the recipient of some aid money targeting out-of-state or other diverse applicants.

This is separate from the “official” school visits that you’re likely to want to do once your student has narrowed down her list of schools to which she will apply. Those are important too, but for different reasons.