10 Tips For Your College Trip by my friend Cliff Peale
Cliff Peale recently returned from a week of college tours with his son, a high-school junior in Northern Kentucky. His daughter is a college sophomore, so he’s been through this once already. Cliff also wrote about higher education for several years at the Cincinnati Enquirer, before leaving the media company last summer.
1. Take it before it’s too late — You shouldn’t be sweating admissions deadlines when you’re on a college trip. Junior year is a perfect time. That way you’ll have time to come back if you need more information. If you don’t like the campus, you can drop it from your list.
2. Eat in the dining hall — This is one of your chances to get a sense of what you’ll feel as a student. Pick a dining hall in the center of campus at a time when plenty of students are there.
3. Ask your tour guide plenty of questions — How long does it take them to walk across campus? Would they walk down this street with a friend after dark? Are their places to shop for food nearby? Is the dining hall food OK? They will have plenty of rehearsed lines about how great the university is. You want to know about whether they really like it.
4. Don’t take too many visits — Two sessions in a day is tough. On our trip, we took five visits in six days, and by the fifth tour, it sounded much the same and we may not have even been listening closely.
5. Beware of the bookstore — It’s natural to want a souvenir from each visit. But one sweatshirt from five schools will set you back several hundred dollars. That’s books for several courses once your student starts college for real.
6. Don’t freak out about the sticker price — For students with good test scores and good GPAs, universities will offer merit aid to get you on their campus. For students with demonstrated financial need, they will offer money to make it affordable. The sticker price will sound unattainable. Don’t worry, only about one-quarter of students even pay full sticker price.
6. Ask questions about financial aid — That being said, take the opportunity to be realistic about finances. Are tuition guarantees based on a family’s income level? Does the school offer any merit scholarships? If the university is outside of Kentucky, will they match your KEES money?
7. If you’re interested in education, go to the education building (and so on, and so on …) — Poke your head into a couple of offices, tell them you’re visiting, and start asking questions. Do education students hang out here? What are the requirements? Is this viewed as a difficult major on campus? You also might want to try the library. If there are students studying in there at 10am on Monday, it’s a pretty serious academic environment.
8. Ask about other opportunities — Will I qualify for the honors program? Is there a community engagement requirement or scholarship? Drop in on the career center and see if students are there taking advantage of it.
9. Are the amenities what you want? — Walk to the fitness center, to the library, to the health center. Check out an off-campus sandwich shop or pizza place. Remember, you’ll be doing more than going to class here. You’ll be living here. Is this a place you want to live?
10. Pay attention — do you belong here? — In the end, there are only three criteria that matter: Does the school have the academic programs you want? Can you afford it? And most importantly, can you see yourself walking around this campus? If you can say “yes” to that third question, you may have a winner.