Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

“I’ll Only Visit Colleges I Get Into”

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” – John Keats.

Your busy son or daughter has just finished junior year, earning solid grades and a decent SAT score. Varsity athletics takes up most his spare time, and he or she will be gone all summer as a camp counselor in training. College isn’t very real yet, and he or she pushes you away when you suggest visiting a few campuses this summer.

Or, your student is a senior who is applying Regular Decision, either by choice or because December notifications on early applications were disappointing. Now several new colleges have been added to the list, and it will be difficult to sneak in a visit before the applications are due.

It is certainly tempting to let your son or daughter off the hook. After all, your student is busy, and maybe he or she is just trying to edit back activities, while delivering good academic performance. If you push the college visit thing, you might create conflict and turn your student off to the college process. Plus, you are pretty overextended yourself, with professional, parenting, volunteering and eldercare responsibilities. How will you be able to fit in visiting campuses too?

Don’t buy it. Not for a second. Here’s why:

1. College is where your young adult will spend four of the most formative years of his or her life. During the undergraduate years, a young person will choose a career, important friends, perhaps a spouse, or even a region of the country to live in. Doesn’t it make sense to choose that environment thoughtfully, with not only information but firsthand exposure through visiting campus?

College visits cannot be crammed into a period of one to two months after an applicant receives an acceptance letter. As I mentioned in my post, Why Juniors Should Visit Colleges on Winter and Spring Break: High school students need six to nine months of visiting, because it takes time for their viewpoints and emotional reactions to campuses to evolve. College selection should not be a whirlwind courtship in April; rather, it should be the result of longterm “dating” and determining a good match.

2. College is a major financial investment that deserves optimal research, including visiting with enough time to digest the experience. You are about to shell out as much as $250K (for a private college), one of the largest investments you will ever make.

If you were planning to purchase a house, would you make an offer based on what you read on Zillow.com, saying, “I’ll see if they accept my offer and then visit the house during attorney review”? Of course not! That wouldn’t leave enough time to “sleep on it” and reflect about whether the house is a good “fit” for your family’s needs. You’d be under too much time pressure. But waiting until senior year spring to see campuses is almost as foolish.

3. Mistakes are costly. I have actually heard families rationalize procrastination of college visits by saying, “If he doesn’t like it, he can always transfer.” Yes, that’s true. But having to “start over” at a new campus can be emotionally disruptive. Key bonding experiences, such as outdoor orientation, freshman dorm, freshman seminars, and fraternity or sorority rush, take place in the first year. After missing these experiences, it is often more difficult for a transfer student to fit in and develop a true sense of belonging.

Transfer students are not always considered for many scholarships for which freshmen are eligible. If the new college’s requirements differ from the original school’s, the student may have to spend extra time and money taking additional courses.

Your son or daughter may end up transferring no matter how much upfront research is done on the original school. An adolescent is an evolving work-in-progress. Interests will change, sometimes requiring program or school transfers. Sometimes emotional needs change (e.g., a freshman may initially love a small school close to home, but later “outgrow” the school and want a larger institution). All valid reasons to change.

But why set your son or daughter up for having to go through the disruptive, stressful experience of transferring by allowing procrastination of thorough, timely, hands-on research of schools during junior and senior year of high school? It’s like the old Billy Joel song: “Get It Right the First Time.” While not always possible, it is certainly desirable.

4. Visiting the college is frequently a factor in gaining acceptance. Many elite colleges require or recommend on-campus interviews, albeit with the option of an interview with an admissions officer or alumnus in your region if you live far away and/or the cost of travelling to campus is prohibitive. As I described in my post, Why University of X?, demonstrated interest in the college is a hot button for admissions people required to maximize their yield. If your student takes the time to research a school’s programs and visit the campus, communicating how he or she determined fit with the school through essays, admissions people will know your son or daughter is serious. They will surmise that if they accept your student, the likelihood of enrollment is high.

Okay, I’ve convinced you. It’s time to plan some visits. Related posts: How to Plan a College VisitTips for College Trips, The Next Six Months of College Visits, Acing the College Admissions Interview.