Why College Visits Are Worth Time, Expense


Published:

The Harvard University campus in spring.

Photo by Jannis Tobias Werner/Shutterstock

Residing in the digital age, it’s tempting to forgo more and more tasks that, a decade or two ago, involved an actual trek out into the real world. Hassles such as buying paper towels or searching for the perfect used car that used to require legwork, human interaction, and possibly even wearing pants can now be done with a click of a mouse from one’s own living room.

Similarly, parents and students may find themselves considering skipping the annoyances of long car rides or plane trips, days away from work/school, and the slew of hotel bills that come from visiting your teen’s prospective colleges. After all, it’s possible to take a virtual tour of campus, chat with an admissions officer in an online forum, and find answers to most questions about anything from dorm life to financial aid on a school’s FAQ page. So, given the availability of fairly comprehensive virtual excursions, is it still worth the time and expense of a physical trip? We at College Transitions believe that, when feasible, it is for the following reasons:

1. Campus visits allow you to use your senses, including your gut.

For many, college will be life’s greatest expense outside of buying a home and should thus be given every bit as much attention. Would you ever considering buying a house, sight-unseen, from an online listing? What looks like a lush backyard may actually be swampland, the beautiful hardwood floors may be rotting and moldy, and two of the three alleged “bedrooms” may feel more like medium-size closets.

Just as with a new home, it helps to see, smell, feel, and fully experience a college campus before forking over that tuition money. Equally important will be the gut-sense you get around campus. Have a meal in the cafeteria, sit in on a class, read the student newspaper, and talk with a few current students. Does it feel like it could be home for four years? Does it have a positive vibe? Do you feel safe and comfortable walking around campus? The only way to answer these questions is to plant your feet on campus and soak it all in.

2. Distance is more than an abstract concept.

There are a multitude of reasons that 72 percent of college students choose to attend school in their home state, the chief one, of course, being reduced tuition at public universities. Yet, many teens are equally influenced by the proximity to family. After all, it’s comforting to know that a home-cooked meal, a free washer and dryer, and most importantly, a network of love, support, and guidance is no further than a few hours away.

If you don’t visit your prospective colleges then you are missing out on accurately assessing how important distance to family is to you. In the abstract, a school that is 200 miles away isn’t that much different than a school that is 2,000 miles away. One can rationalize that a 4-hour plane trip and a 4-hour car ride are roughly equivalent. As an armchair globetrotter it’s easy to acquire a false bravado. Actually packing your bags for the opposite coast, waiting for hours in the airport, crossing time zones, experiencing jet lag, and seeing how it feels to be so far from home is an appropriate test that will bring clarity to the geographical parameters of your college search.

3. Go on an official and unofficial tour.

It’s wise to begin with the official tour offered by your college. While sanitized and sales-pitchy, you’ll likely get a good sense of the heart of campus, and of the school’s main architectural and social attractions. It will also be a chance to ask your tour guide questions about dorm life, the social scene, and other anecdotal information that is tough to glean from websites and guidebooks.

After the official tour ends, we recommend setting off on a self-guided tour to make sure the infomercial version of the school appears to align with reality. Chat up a few random students about their favorite and least favorite things about their school. Explore the surrounding town or city. Dine at a restaurant or two. The more information you can take in, the better, whether of the school-sanctioned or unofficial variety.

4. Connect with an admissions officer.

If you are visiting a liberal arts school or a mid-size university, you will likely be able to schedule a one-on-one evaluative interview. If you are attending a larger university that does not offer a formal one-on-one interview, try to participate in an information session with an admissions official. Either way, you’ll want to come prepared to talk about your academic interests and achievements, extracurricular activities, and also have a number of thoughtfully-crafted questions for the admissions officer about their institution. Particularly at small liberal arts colleges, making a positive and lasting impression as a nice and engaging human being can pay dividends when application review time rolls around.

For more on how to prepare for a college interview and what type of questions one should expect, revisit our previous blog on the subject.

If you can’t swing an in-person tour …

As we stated at the beginning, we believe that visiting a college is immensely helpful, when it’s feasible. Sometimes due to budgetary or time constraints, seeing some of your prospective schools simply isn’t possible, especially if you have a lengthy and geographically diverse college list. If you aren’t able to view a campus in person, there are still actions that you can take to better form an assessment of a school’s fit.

For those who can’t make it to campus, attempt to schedule an alumni interview at a location near you. Doing so will still afford you the opportunity to humanize your application and make a lasting impression with someone affiliated with the university.

Connect with current students at your prospective college through social media or via your high school’s guidance department. Chances are, unless you attend a tiny high school, a recent alum is currently attending your institution of interest and will be willing to share his or her experiences.

If you aren’t making a pilgrimage to campus, there are plenty of other ways to please the demonstrated interest gods. Attending a local admissions event, following a school on Facebook, and corresponding over email with an admissions counselor are all excellent ways to show a potential higher education destination that you have a genuine interest in attending.

College Transitions’ bottom line

There’s nothing wrong with buying paper towels online but when it comes to a six-figure purchase like a college education, an in-person inspection is recommended. If a school is within reasonable driving distance but doesn’t feel worth the time, effort, and money to visit, then it should be eliminated from your list.

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also a co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.

 

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About this Blog

College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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Calendar

December 2017

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Barriskill Dance Theatre School present its annual production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Reynolds Theater, Duke University
125 Science Dr.
Durham, NC  27708
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Website »

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Enjoy a family Chanukah concert from local band, Mishpacha (Hebrew for “family”). Mishpacha’s music is influenced by a variety of musical genres including folk,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Burning Coal Theatre Company as it presents a stage production based on the children's novel by JM Barrie. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $25/adult, $15/student

Where:
Burning Coal Theatre
224 Polk St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 919-834-4001
Website »

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Learn about winter. Sip pine needle tea, and observe the ice and snow through hands-on science experiments. All ages with adult. Registration required. 

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Cary Ballet students presents a condensed version of the holiday story for younger audiences. Join Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends on a...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
Website »

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Build a LEGO menorah, discover chocolate making and enjoy games from 3-4:45 p.m. at the Apex Community Center. At 5 p.m., a menorah lighting and fire show take place at 220 N. Salem Street in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Apex
, NC


Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Enjoy a 3.5-hour bus tour in the heart of downtown Raleigh during the holiday season. Pullen Park Holiday Express tickets included. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $55/adult, $39/child

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
, NC  27601


Website »

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The Triangle Youth String Orchestra performs its annual holiday concert. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15/adult, $5/child

Where:
Athens Drive High School Auditorium
1420 Athens Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Website »

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Cary Ballet students presents the holiday story of Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends. The Raleigh Boychoir's Resident...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
Website »

More information

Join in celebration of Hanukkah with a group menorah lighting (bring your menorahs from home), fun crafts for the kids, latkes, jelly doughnuts and more. This fundraising event is open to the...

Cost: $10 children 3-18, $12 adults. At the door: $12 children 3-18, $15 adults

Where:
Beth Meyer Synagogue Social Hall
504 Newton Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Beth Meyer Preschool
Contact Name: Michelle Panek
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Create a snow globe to take home. All ages with adult. Registration not required. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

See 10 unique play homes built by Terramor, with $10 raffle tickets available per play home benefitting Duke Children’s Hospital and the YMCA of the Triangle. The Play Homes include a fire...

Cost: $10.00/raffle ticket

Where:
Terramor Homes Corporate Office
7208 Falls of Neuse Road, #201
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Terramor Homes
Telephone: 919-810-2504
Contact Name: Rebecca Newsome
Website »

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Family members join teams to shoot foul shots for a chance to win a holiday ham. See website for age divisions and times. No registration necessary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Center
73 Hunter St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Telephone: 919-249-3402
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

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Show Less...

See a family-friendly movie on a big screen. Take snacks and a blanket. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore toys that children enjoy all over the world. Make a toy to take home and read a story. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's Book Buyer Sarah reads stories to babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
McIntyre's Books at Fearrington Village
2000 Fearrington Village Center
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Website »

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Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids enjoy crafting and nature while parents enjoy holiday shopping. Take a lunch and water bottle. Ages 6-10. Meet at the park office. Registration required online. 

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St.Clair
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Learn what the Ingalls family did to survive one especially long winter and how they celebrated Christmas. Taste an old-fashioned peppermint candy stick and take home a homemade holiday craft. Wear...

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir presents its annual holiday concert. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
228 W. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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