The last two articles have focused on how a parent or student can create a college visit list. I strongly suggest that you finish that project before going on your first visit, as each visit should be well prepared. Please also keep in mind my recommendation to not apply to any college that you have not visited.

The Preparation

Before each college visit, the student should research as much information about the college as possible. As many of you know, my main source for general information is found at the federal website College Navigator (nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator). You can also obtain good information about actual salary earnings for graduates and each college’s most popular majors at the website collegescorecard.ed.gov.

On the College Navigator website, you will find valuable information such as the school’s total cost, average SAT/ACT scores, four-year graduation rate (my favorite), and the percentage of applicants that are accepted. You can also find statistics on campus security. If a college is reporting more than 10 arrests/incidents a year in a particular category, make sure you ask what is being done about that problem.

For your upcoming visits, it would be valuable to begin to target at least one school where the student has a realistic chance of acceptance. The college selection decision is one of the most important ones of their lives and therefore it is one that requires the investment of an appropriate amount of time and energy. Unfortunately, those students that do not plan are often those that are unhappy at college and therefore drop out or transfer. Remember, the four-year average graduation rate of all four-year Massachusetts state colleges is only 38 percent, which means that three out of five students do not graduate from these schools on time.

Pre-Tour Questions

The more that your son/daughter has SAT scores equal to or exceeding the school’s average, the more likely are the chances of admission. That said, most of the top-tiered schools (those with acceptance rates of 35 percent or less) have most of the applicants scoring the average SAT scores for that school. So, the admissions people at those colleges ask, what else does the student have to offer? Will they play a sport? Will they participate in activities? Do they have unique characteristics? What have they done about exploring information about their stated major? Have they had an interview? Will they come back for a second visit? Students need to answer those questions themselves.

It is important to stress here that the main reason to go to college is to graduate. Can the student see themselves graduating from there? Do they feel comfortable when they are on the campus? Do they feel that they will be successful there? Would they be satisfied to get accepted into a college but then end up in the bottom quarter of the class? Or, are they ready to commit to studying one to two hours a day more than their classmates in order to remain in the top half of the class? Is that investment a good use of their time?

Questions To Ask On Tour

General Information

When you are on the tour, ask the tour guide what he or she likes best about the school. (My wife’s favorite question when we took our sons on college tours was, “What do you like the least about the college?” She would follow that up with, “What would you change?”)

What percentage of the students are commuters? What are the library hours during semester finals and do they have ample quiet rooms for study? What is the average size of the freshman classes? How many freshman classes will have class sizes of more than 50 students?

Student Life

What are the top sports? How many intramural sports do they offer? What percentage of the students participates in these activities? How many sororities/fraternities are there?

How are freshman roommates selected? Are freshman allowed to have cars on campus? How close is a local transportation hub? How does the school provide access to the local city?

Student Career

Is there a robust office of career counseling? What percentage of the junior year students get placed in internships? Can students easily get a job on campus? Is there free tutoring available? Can term papers be reviewed for free?

Some of these questions can be answered by doing research on the school’s website. Conducting that research could lead to even more informative questions.

At the end of the tour, be sure to spend some time in the school’s cafeteria to have lunch or a snack. It is a great way to observe the school’s population.

Tip of the Day: Take notes while on the tour in order to compile your thoughts right after the visit.

Mr. Zorski was in business for 23 years and has been in education for 22 years. E-mail questions to jzorski47@aol.com.

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