College Admissions Decoded

How to Make the Most of College Visits

Episode Summary

How to Make the Most of College Visits

Episode Notes

College visits are the best way for students to gather information on the schools they are considering. But visits can be a big investment of time and money and, sometimes, it’s hard to avoid the sales pitches and get an accurate picture of a college. The right plan and the right mindset are essential for the visit to be worthwhile. Knowing what questions to ask, and who to ask, is essential.   

Guests: Tom Campbell, college counselor at the Lakeside School in Washington State, and Yvonne Espinoza, founder at Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services, Moderated by NACAC member Eddie Pickett, a college counselor and dean at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California.

Episode Transcription

Eddie Pickett: Hello, new and old friends, and welcome to the College Admissions Decoded podcast, an occasional series from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC. NACAC is an association of more than 25,000 professionals at high schools, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations, as well as independent counselors, who support and advise students and families through the college admission process.

I'm your host, Eddie Pickett. I'm a longtime NACAC member, and a college counselor and Dean at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Today's conversation is all about the college visit. It's a great way for students to gather information on the schools they're considering, but visits can be a big investment of time, money, energy. And sometimes, it's hard to avoid the sales pitch to get an accurate picture of a college. The right plan, and the right mindset are essential for a visit to be worthwhile. Knowing what questions to ask, and who to ask, is also essential. In short, be intentional, folks.

We'll talk about that and more today. With us for today's episode are two NACAC members with plenty of experience advising students that make college visits. First up, we got Yvonne Espinoza, college counselor and founder of Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services in Texas.

Yvonne Espinoza: Hello.

Pickett: And next up, we've got Tom Campbell, a college counselor at Lakeside School in Washington State.

Tom Campbell: Howdy, howdy. Happy to be here.

Pickett: It's also nice to see Tom. He has short hair now. He used live in my house with longer hair before. So I'm like, "Who is this guy?"

Campbell: That has been a frequent reaction that I have received. And I feel like I lost a part of myself when those locks were chopped off, but you know... We used to call it a Tarzan kind of aesthetic, Tarzan kind of look. And I wish I had it now, though, because Yvonne is wearing a lovely leopard print shirt.

Espinoza: It would go-

Campbell: You can't see it, because it's a podcast.

Espinoza: It would go great. Yeah, it would go great with my shirt.

Campbell: But we would totally be like...

Espinoza: Vibing.

Campbell: Totally be vibing. But we're still vibing, but just not in look.

Pickett: We're going to have some fun on the podcast today.

Campbell: Oh, are we, are we, are we going to have some fun.

Pickett: So thank you for joining me today. We're just going to jump on in. Why are college visit so important?

Campbell: Ooh. Hitting with the Heart of the Ocean.

Espinoza: I'll go first. So I think it's really important for students to see a campus for themselves. And I know this might be hard to believe, but everyone has an opinion about a student's college search: so, parents, friends, maybe they know people who are at different schools. And everyone is going to tell them what would be a good school for them, including their college counselor. But I think it's really important for students to go on their own or with their family, but to see a school for themselves, to really figure out it's a place they will be excited to be at. So I always advise students, if it's possible to try and get on the college campus, to see it, to form their own opinions about the schools. What about you, Tom?

Campbell: Yeah. I think that Gen Z is always talking about the vibes, the feels, the aesthetic. And I think that that is something that it sometimes doesn't always seem like it's maybe the most important piece of... Obviously, the main reason you go to college is to get an amazing education that's transformative and rich, and you build amazing relationships, and you have life-changing experiences. That's what we want for every student who is looking towards higher education.

And I think that it can be really difficult without that kind of just when all your senses are activated, and you're just seeing and experiencing and even smelling, if you happen to go through the dining hall on a campus visit; which not all tours do that, but if you do, and they happen to be whipping up some fresh scones or something and some tea, it can definitely be a really way for you just feel completely immersed, and to really envision yourself at a place with all senses involved.

But I also do think it's important to note that college visits are a privilege, and it's something that not every single student who's looking towards higher education maybe has easy access to, a lot of institutions in their backyard or close by; or it might just be a really unfamiliar landscape.

So definitely something that I think, however you're able to engage with a college campus, whether you do have the capacity to fly to different parts of the country and go see these tours, that's amazing if you can. But I also think if there are ways that you can engage with, for example, fly-in programs are a great way to be able to go and see college campuses if you're a student who is an underrepresented student of color.

Pickett: And they're free, folks.

Campbell: They're free.

Pickett: They are free.

Campbell: Huge shout out to College Greenlight, whoever. I don't know who is managing that website; the entire team, if there's a team behind it, if it's a one-person show. But it's an amazing database and resource of different college fly-in programs for students. And of course, many of them right now with the pandemic are virtual. And of course, we keep pivoting. Pivot is the word of the year, or now year two; still there.

But I think that however you're able to experience a campus beyond a screen, if there's a chance to do it, regardless of what shape that takes, if it's a self-guided tour, if there's no formal tours available; any way they're able to make that physical, in-person, experiential piece a reality, I think is a really wise move towards stepping towards.

Espinoza: I also think, doing college research, that schools tend to mesh together. I know a lot of students I work with, when they're looking at different schools, after they look at different websites, they feel like all of them start looking the same. We know they're not, but sometimes seeing that school in person can also help to set them apart, which is important to figure out. I kind of like to say that colleges have personalities. So trying to figure out who a college is, is a good way to tell them apart, and to figure out if you're a good fit.

It's not always possible to go visit in person. I personally, when I did my college search, couldn't afford to go see my college in person. So the first time I saw Boston University or the Northeast at all, was the day I moved into my dorm. I do not recommend that necessarily. I had done a lot of research. I knew that was my dream school. I knew what I was getting into. But yeah, it would have been great if I could have seen the school. But again, now, even if you can't go visit, there are so many options available: virtual tours, or ways to interact with colleges that weren't around back in my day. So I encourage students to try and take those added steps, which I know are extra work, but those can help to ensure that when you do move into a college campus, that you are going to be very happy.

Campbell: Yeah. Back in your day, Yvonne, what are you talking about? It's still your day.

Pickett: And speaking of which, and thinking about all those different online technologies, I was asked this by a student recently, so I want to know, what would your response be to this? And student asked, "With online technologies, social media, YouTube, virtual tours, are college visits really necessary?"

Campbell: Yeah. Necessary, that's a strong word. I think obviously, as Yvonne has demonstrated, it is possible to go into a campus without seeing it in person. And of course, there were many students who were forced into that situation previously, right? So necessary, I think is a strong word. And definitely for everyone's process, it might not actually be a reality to be able to see that campus in person.

But if that opportunity is on the table, you have a lot more autonomy, I think, and control over how you can maximize that experience, when you are part of an on-campus, in-person visit. Because with a virtual tour, right, mostly with a sequence and maybe a video that they're speaking over; and you don't maybe have a chance obviously afterwards to be like, "Hey. Can you point me to this facility? I'm really interested in this." And stumble across, maybe you see a professor who is in their office, and you want to go and talk with them, or just are able to knock and be like, "Hey. I see you're here. How do you enjoy working here and working with students?" And those kind of more offshoots that can go beyond the script, I guess, I think can be a little more difficult when you're only kind of doing formal programming that might be offered virtually.

But that being said though, that's one, I think, silver lining of course, that I think many people have realized with the pandemic, and the response to COVID-19, and how colleges had to really act fast to create content, to be able to bring as much of their campus as possible to people in their living rooms, people wherever they're tuning in from. So, I think that being able to have access to social media: YouTube, virtual tours, all these kind of online technologies, that's so a great added layer to this. And I think if that's what you have, and that's what you have access to, great. Because it is so much more robust now in the past year and a half than it's ever been, and will continue to be a priority.

Espinoza: I actually do really think it is a necessary layer, however the students decide to do it, whether that's an in-person visit or a virtual visit, because there's only so much information you can get from a website or a book. Seeing things for yourself, the visual part of it, I think, is really important. And yeah, if you can actually visit a school for yourself if it's nearby, or if your parents can take you on a visit, or you do an all-expense-paid fly-in, however you can go see the campus for yourself.

As Tom said, there are other... You can really customize a visit, to figure out what are the things that really interest you about a school. If you're vegan, you can ask questions about vegan options in the cafeteria. Or, if you are a student of color, you can ask to speak with other students, and actually get their perspective of the college, or figure out what kinds of resources are there for you to make you feel more at home at the college and supported.

Those are things you can do virtually, but I also think just that whole added component is an important part of the college resource process again, that wasn't always there before. So I really ask all of the students I work with, that is something I expect them to do as part of the research process, because it will give them additional information that they can't always get from a book or a website.

Campbell: One last point on this online technology of social media. I think there are definitely some things I'd like to shout out, like are either of you familiar with CampusReel? So it's a website basically where students from different college campuses kind of do a lot more organic, day-in-the-life type videos. And of course, YouTube obviously is the first stop that you might go to for a school, but some might not have as robust content. So CampusReel is one that we definitely have recommended at Lakeside our students check out, if they're looking for a little more of that organic, less contrived, this is all the formal tour stops, or this is the formal virtual information session that covers all the buckets and the tidbits of information that I already know from the brochure, or already know from the website. So that's one that definitely, shout out to whoever runs that, and puts that forward, because I think it's a great resource to add to that.

Espinoza: Is University TV still around? They have...

Campbell: That's one I don't know about.

Espinoza: Oh. So they were another one, where an employee of University TV would go do a tour, and give a lot of information about a college.

Campbell: Yeah. I think Crimson Education is another one, who they would have people go out and interview different random... They would just stop people on campus, people who didn't work in the admissions office, or formal tour guides, and just be like, "Hey. Would you mind being interviewed for our Crimson Education segment?" And I think that's who they are; but it was so interesting, some of the things that I saw from the Pomona video, that people were saying. I'm like, "Yeah. These are totally, I'd say, real, organic and authentic testimonials from students."

Espinoza: I also want to say, with the pandemic going on, I completely support families who don't feel comfortable traveling around the country right now.

Campbell: Absolutely.

Espinoza: If you're not comfortable, that's completely all right, and I encourage you to use the virtual options available to you.

Campbell: Super good point. Yeah.

Pickett: And something you just said, Tom, was about timelines. And so, think about timelines. At what point in the college application process should a student begin visiting colleges?

Espinoza: So, I really think students should start visiting before the application processes start. I think junior year is a great year to really ramp up visits, but students can start as early as ninth grade. And I want to say this with a caveat, as long as they are interested, and that is something they're really excited to do you, to start seeing college campuses. I don't think it should be a high pressure, sign up for a visit, sign up for a tour; you're starting to express interest. No. Just if a student starts to want to see what different schools look like, what different areas of the country look like, maybe. Maybe a student's family is going on a vacation somewhere, and there's a college nearby that they would be excited to see. I encourage that, but I don't think it's necessary to start that early.

I do think, since college applications open so early now, so summer before senior year; and some application deadlines are as early as October. So with that in mind, if you just start doing visits your senior year in August or September, you're already going to be bumping up against college deadlines. So I do encourage students to really try and start figuring out what colleges they will want to apply to during junior year. And maybe to start ramping up those visits virtual or in person that year, or maybe a little... Again, they can do it a little earlier: freshman or sophomore year, but more at a relaxed pace. And if they are excited, and want to do that.

I think also, telling the difference between a student seeing for him or herself or theirselves, seeing a college campus, and knowing what is the difference between a big school or a small school? Students ask me that all the time. They can read numbers and see the enrollment difference. But sometimes, you don't really understand what the difference is until you go to the college campus, and feel what a college that has 50,000 students is like, compared to a college with 5,000 students. Those are hard differences to make just by looking at those numbers on paper, rather than going in person, and seeing how that feels for yourself.

Also, being in a rural versus a very urban area; I've had students before, who they knew a college was in a rural area and they were fine with that. But then when they went to visit it, and actually felt what it was like to be in a smaller town, without a mall or a movie theater, perhaps, they realized, "Oh. That is something I really care about." So I also think starting to know those differences before the senior year can make it easier to start narrowing down colleges, when the time comes to make your college list.

Pickett: I just want to plug one thing on the smaller, rural places. They're actually great places to study, because everything comes to you. You don't have to go off campus and find all these things; everything comes to your campus. And so don't be afraid of those rural campuses.

Secondly, I want to make a point from what Yvonne just said about ninth and 10th grade. And this is for parents, a hundred percent for parents, ninth and 10th grade is not the time to drag your kid around to a normal college info session tour. That's just the time to throw them on campus; something locally usually is better, because you can just see, "What does it feel like to be a college student?" That's the goal of ninth and 10th grade. It is not to do the formal things. 11th, 12th grade, a little different story.

Espinoza: I totally agree. And also, with regards to the small colleges, that's another reason I really encourage students to go visit those small colleges in small towns, because sometimes they will discount those options without realizing there are amazing places there for them. So thank you for that.

Campbell: Yeah. If you're in an area where there's multiple schools of different, like different types of schools that are close by within driving distance, please take advantage of schools, where even, especially if you're... Of course, if you're towards the end of your senior year, and your list is a little more solidified, maybe just focus on the schools that you're really investing your time and energy, and researching and writing supplemental essays for.I know a lot of students are thinking about that right now on my caseload. I cannot tell you the amount of junior surveys that I read from students, who it was the... January of their junior year is when, at my institute, at my school, the students start to get paired with college counselors. We ask them on the survey, "Oh, have you done any college visits? Have you gone and visited schools?" And this is after they go to a presentation that we do particularly about highly selective schools, which sometimes we call highly rejective schools. And I think when we see so many students who send in these responses to these surveys that are like, "Oh yeah. I went to Boston, and I only visited Harvard. And now I really wish I visited other places after seeing just the reality of what the college admissions landscape can look like."

So I think visiting schools with different ranges of selectivity, schools you may not have heard of before, but if they're within driving distance, I think that's a really... For example, I went to college in Worcester, Massachusetts. There are like six colleges all within a 10-minute drive from each other. And definitely, for a student who's going to visit Worcester Polytech Institute, WPI, or College of the Holy Cross, where I went, love it, Assumption College, where my sister went, and was right down the road. Right? I think... Worcester State, also right there.

So, I definitely think that that's something that I hope students make time for, and just open their kind of eyes and possibility. Because you'll notice, I think as Yvonne said, a lot of similar things on different campuses, but also a lot of those distinctions, or things that if you noticed you really like at some places, you can start to cull your search a little more, or be like, "Okay, gee, maybe like Eddie was saying, I actually didn't think I would like a rural school. I went out there and actually, it was super cool. And there was a lot on campus, and just a lot of..." Many of these places, lots of scenic beauty around an outdoor recreational adventure things, whatnot. I think that's definitely also something I'd want to plug as well.

Pickett: So now that we've talked about some of the planning pieces, let's get to actually what you're going to do while you're on this campus. So what suggestions do you have about talking to students while you're on campus? Who do you talk to? What should you ask to get the "real" story?

Campbell: Ooh, the drama of it all. Ooh. We did say we like the drama.

Espinoza: We do like the drama. We do like the drama.

Campbell: So it keeps going. Great question. One first stop is definitely the Admissions office. I think Admissions offices really do invest a lot of time and resources and energy on trying to be able to offer programming that can give students as much of a full picture of campus as possible.

But I do think, to the point of that last sentence, right? What should you ask to get to the "real" story? I do think that that's definitely something to be mindful of on your different college campuses. If people ask you about things that you'd like to change about the campus, tell them an honest answer. And that doesn't mean going off on an explosive tirade, totally just dragging some people through the mud; but to do it in a respectful and thoughtful way, and to kind of offer up some perspective and potential areas that the school is approaching to addressing some of those things.

I think hopefully when you visit campuses, I do hope that the guides are real with you, and that they are giving that the real story. But I also do think that every campus is different, and maybe some guides are just more comfortable kind of being a lot more neutral. So I think you might just experience kind of a little bit of variance with that, depending on the school, and the way that the Admissions office and just the culture of the school maybe cultivate those visit programs.

So I think it's a great first stop. And I think definitely if you are on that formal tour, and you feel like it's really filling your cup, and that the guide is being super authentic with you and telling really interesting anecdotes and pieces from their life, and being really willing to be honest with people who are asking them questions, I think that's a great sign.

But if you feel like maybe the guide is giving an answer that isn't as much as detailed as you want, or maybe isn't the perspective that you're looking for, right? If there's a student who has a different identity or a different interest that you might want to connect with, that didn't happen to be the tour guide that you had. I think being able to try and identify, and maybe ask when you get back to the Admissions office, "Hey, I was hoping that maybe chat with a few other students. Do you have a resource or place where I could go to, or any other students who might be willing to chat?" Or even going to the Student Center or going to lunch on campus, or getting a meal or stopping at a coffee shop, and just putting on that extrovert hat and just being comfortable going up.

And I know, especially if you're at high schooler, you're like, "Ooh, they're going to be like, 'What are you doing here? Get out of my way.'" But a lot of times on these campuses, people are really willing to, even if they're hustling to class and they have somewhere to be, and they aren't able to stop and chat, it doesn't hurt to just be able to be like, "Hey, excuse me. I see that... Are you a current student here?" You could always be like, "Oh, I'm looking to get to this building. Oh, by the way, would you mind telling me about X, Y, Z?" Trying as much as possible.

Of course, this depends on your personality, this depends on your comfort level. And this also depends on the volume of the campus if you're at a school where between the change of classes, there's thousands of people, and you're like, "All right. Stopping and interviewing them is just not really keeping the flow of campus moving." Obviously, reading the environment and working with what's around.

But I do think some of those more organic conversations that are not offered through a formal tour guide or person are definitely, if you're able to identify those people on a college campus when you're visiting, people maybe if you went to a high school where there are alums of the school that are there, and you're able to find their contact information. That's another way that we've at Lakeside been able to get students to, especially right now that not all college campuses are doing formal tours; they might have only self-guided tours. That's been a great way that we've been able to allow students to have that personal connection. Even if they didn't know the person from high school, there's still that kind of link in commonality.

And of course, if you're the only person from your school who's on that campus, that might not be your situation; but definitely a friend of a friend, person-to-person, tapping into that network, and letting people know that, "Hey, I'm headed to this area." If you're on social media, be like, "Hey, I'm heading to these college campuses. If any of you know anyone, friends of a friends of whatnot, I'd love to chat with them or meet with them." I think that can definitely be a great way to make your visit a lot more personal and meaningful, and just get multiple perspectives and viewpoints, whether it's formal through the office, or informal through those other interactions.

Espinoza: I would like to also encourage students not to judge the entire college based on a tour guide. As Tom said, you may encounter a tour guide that doesn't share your interests; or maybe they're having a bad day, and just don't give an amazing tour that that day. I really encourage students if that does happen, to please, that is one student out of an entire campus of students. And that there's no way ever, that one student would be a reflection of the entire college population. So I encourage students, if you have a not so great tour experience, to take the time to reach out to other students, as Tom said. That was great advice, to maybe talk with the Admissions office and ask if there's another student you can talk to, or find another student on campus that you can meet with.

Another idea, a lot of colleges now have really innovative ways of connecting with students, either on social media, on Facebook, or you can chat on their website, that you can arrange chats. Maybe they have a chat bot, or ways to chat live with other students, to use some of those options to find more out about the college.

And to what Tom was saying earlier, something you could ask to get the real scoop about a school, is to ask a tour guide or a student what they would change about the college. What is something they would change? It doesn't... And again, some students may feel like you're asking them to say something negative, so maybe they won't answer that. But a lot of students will answer that. They'll tell you, "Oh, I wish..." It may be something like, "I wish we had ice cream in the cafeteria." Or it may be something more, I don't know, more substantial that matters to you, and is going to help you tell the college apart from other schools. So I encourage asking that question.

I encourage asking questions such as, "What are some things about the college that maybe students didn't realize until they actually enrolled in the college?" And this could be something really positive. Maybe there was something about the school that isn't published anywhere that's a really neat thing, a hidden gem, if you will. So that is also a really great question to ask.

Pickett: I'm going to pick up on that. And so, thinking about the questions, let's equip them with a toolkit of questions that they should ask while they're on campus. This is a lightning round. You may not explain why. There's no detail, just the question. And so I want you to fill in the words. So if I ask, "What's the best way to ask a question about...?" I'm going to give you a title, and I want you to ask a question that you would tell students.

Campbell: Oh. Y'all, listen. And we were not prepared with this. This is an off-the-cuff, out of the blue request that we're getting. So if we stumble, have some sympathy, some empathy for...

Espinoza: Have some more coffee with it.

Campbell: Yeah, but we're ready for the challenge. Yep.

Pickett: All right. So, what's the best way to ask a question about campus culture?

Campbell: "What is the type of student that you don't think would be successful here?"

Espinoza: "How religious is this campus, considering there's a religious affiliation? Do you feel that all students are accepted on this campus? Do all students feel comfortable being here and welcomed?"

Pickett: What's the environment and the neighborhood around the campus, and how have you been involved with it?

Espinoza: "How many students live on campus? Is this a residential campus, or do most students leave on the weekends?"

Campbell: "What were some activities or aspects of campus life that really surprised you, or you didn't really know were a thing until you got to this campus?"

Espinoza: "What are your favorite traditions about this campus? What do students do as a whole community every year?"

Pickett: So next lightning question, speaking of that. What's the best way to ask a question about fun traditions on a college campus?

Espinoza: "What are some fun traditions around your college campus?"

Campbell: Touche. That is a great response. Ways to ask question about traditions. "Are there particular traditions based on residence hall or all people participate in, and then maybe others that are for different populations on campus, or that you collaborate with other schools nearby, or any rivalries on campus?"

Espinoza: "Are all traditions, do you feel like they're all associated with athletics? Or are there traditions outside of that, that I can participate in if I'm not so interested in sports?"

Campbell: "What would you say is a more recent or maybe an unofficial tradition that you have with your friends or people around you that you've done, to kind of have a routine or a way to connect in college?"

Pickett: What do students do for fun on your campus? The next one, what's the best way to ask a question about the classroom environment on their campus?

Espinoza: "How easy is it to contact professors, and to communicate with professors on this campus?"

Campbell: "What has been one class that has changed your perspective on something substantially?"

Espinoza: "How easy is it to get the classes you want to register for on this campus?"

Pickett: "What does it feel like to sit in a large lecture hall?"

Campbell: "Can you give any examples of some meaningful relationships that you've been able to develop with professors?"

Pickett: Can you tell me a debate that you had in class recently? What was the debate? How did it go? And then what happened after class between you and that person?

Campbell: "Was there a class that you had to take for a gen ed or anything, or a general requirement, that really ended up surprising you, or being different than you thought it would be?"

Espinoza: "Do many students here take courses outside of their major? Is there freedom to do that?"

Pickett: If you're undecided, how did you choose your major? How did a friend of yours who didn't necessarily know their major come in and select their major?

Espinoza: "How easy is it to change majors at the school?"

Pickett: How easy is it to switch schools between maybe Engineering and Business and Letters and Sciences or Humanities? How easy is that process at this school, per school?

Campbell: "Was there a class that was the one, as in the one that convinced you to major in, or concentrate in whatever you're studying?"

Pickett: Those are a lot of good questions. And we always hear that there's no such thing as a bad question, but is that true in this situation?

Espinoza: So I don't want students to be afraid to ask questions; but with that said, I do feel that students should be looking for certain aspects of the college outside of just the physical appearance. Don't judge a book by its cover. That applies to colleges as well.

Campbell: I really empathize with students with this because right, there are so many awesome college options out there. And I think especially when many of the colleges may have similar ways that their curriculum is structured, similar course offerings or majors or programs, similar philosophies, and just things about them. It can be easy to try to latch onto some convenient distinctions that are, in the grand scheme of things, very trivial.

So for example, if you are on a college campus, and the very first question you were asking about is, "Can you tell me more about the laundry services?" Laundry Service is a phenomenal 2001 album by one Shakira. That is the only way that I would try to be folding that into your tour. Okay? That is not a question to be asking on a college tour.

Pickett: And that is going to be the laundry service of Tom Campbell, ie, you.

Campbell: Yeah. Well, it's a phenomenal album. It is from Wherever, Whenever, one of her biggest breakthrough English language hits. You may not remember it, because if y'all are listening, you're Gen Z, so this was way before your time. But anyway.

Pickett: That's why I heard dancing. I'm just saying that.

Campbell: I'm just really hyping up. I'm not even sponsored by Shakira. I just-

Espinoza: And his hips don't lie.

Campbell: Ooh. That is very true. Yeah. Well, you can tell them later, and be the judge of that. Anyway, Laundry Service; great album, not a great question, I would say. Because if that is something that you are centering your college tour on, this is not a real estate tour. This is not-

Espinoza: You're going to college, not buying a condo.

Campbell: Yes. This is not a country club tour. Amenities are not things that you should be scouring and looking out for on this tour. You should be really trying to connect with the place, and think about the experience: again, the relationships, the people, the resources, the environment, philosophy, all those things are definitely what your questions should be really be centered on, as opposed to some of the more trivial. And yes, colleges are going to have a place where you can wash your clothes.

Espinoza: Freshman dorms are not supposed to be exquisite and luxurious. Freshman dorms will probably be the least prettiest housing on campus. I'm generalizing there.

Campbell: Right.

Espinoza: So don't be disappointed if you see a freshman dorm, and it does not meet those expectations. It really shouldn't. And that isn't the most important thing about where you are going to spend your college years.

Campbell: Totally. I do think some other questions that are not as productive or not as helpful are ones that don't allow for anecdotes. If your question is, "What is the student to faculty ratio?" You could Google that while you're walking on the tour; but obviously, you should pay attention to the guide.

Pickett: Absolutely. So I'm going to... Couple quick questions. So Tom, I'm going to throw you one; Yvonne, I'm going to throw you one, and then a couple more from there. But, just other things to do on campus. So should students be doing interviews, sitting in on classes, meeting a coach, meeting some other person on campus? What are your thoughts on that, in about 30 seconds or less?

Campbell: I think that if you're at the stage in your college process where you know a school is really up there, and you really are interested in applying, that's when I think some of those more additional touch points and opportunities, such as an interview, such as a class visit, definitely make a lot more sense. If you're able to visit overnight, a lot of schools, maybe right now that might not be something that they're offering to all students, but definitely is a really great opportunity.

If you're like, "Oh, I'm interested in this school, and maybe I'll want to go here, but I'll just interview because I'm here conveniently." That might not be the best idea, because if this is your first time hearing about a school, and you interview, and they're asking you questions about why do you want to apply; you may just have a really, really introductory examples from your tour or visit to support that interview and conversation. So, definitely with those added layers and added opportunities, you want to go when you've done on a little more research, have a little more of a nuanced understanding, and comprehensive view of the school, before diving into some of those more really fun and really influential pieces.

Pickett: And Yvonne, over to you. Think about the parents. So what tips do you have for parents who accompany their children on campus visits? What questions should they ask, not ask, or when do they need to step back?

Espinoza: My advice would be for parents to step back as much as possible when the visit starts, because so many students love their parents so much, and are going to be very influenced by their parents' opinions. So I really encourage parents to try and let students form their own opinions and perspective, based on their college visit.

And sometimes that means parents not saying as much, or maybe asking the students more questions about what they think, or what they're looking for, instead of giving their own opinions, such as, "Oh, I didn't realize this was an older campus." Or, "I don't really love this city." Little remarks like that can really affect a student's opinion, and maybe may make them not as encouraged to seriously consider a college.

So I really encourage parents to allow students... This should be a student-centered process, where students are really in the lead, trying to figure things out. And that's hard to do if parents are giving a lot of opinions in the process. So, it is okay to ask questions, too. Some of the same questions we had given for students, those are okay for parents to ask; but just for parents to be careful about giving too many opinions early on, before a student has formed their own.

Pickett: And as a last question, we're going to do an insider tip. So, as a college counselor, we visit a lot of colleges as well. And so, what do you pay attention to when you're doing a campus tour?

Campbell: I was going to say, you can really tell when there's genuine enthusiasm coming from the guide about something. And I think that can just be really telling about whether or not they're... For example, I was just finishing doing program at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Lovely spot, and huge shout out to the Whitman team for putting together a great tour program.

But one of the things that I noticed the students were doing, where they were always hyping up and shouting out their peers about things that they were doing. And that's not something that I necessarily have seen at all college campuses. There's been colleges where I've gone to, where the guide really talked only about kind of their own accolades and things like that. And definitely, I think anytime where you see a certain energy, or the student lighting up about something, I think that really can be pretty telling about, a little bit about what the school values.

And again, this is one person, this is one person's experience, and you can't have that sole interaction be the end all, be all of your entire view of the school. But I do think there's something to be said for seeing those kind of cues, and just that body language, or the ways their eyes light up when they're talking about a certain class or professor, or a memory. When there's more than just what they're saying, but the way that they're saying it and the way that they're carrying themselves, and just those other cues and signals of enthusiasm or just excitement, or I don't know, fulfillment. I think that can really be something to try to just keep an eye out for, and to really take to heart when you notice it.

Espinoza: And I really like to hear each student, each tour guide's story, and to hear about the kinds of things they are getting involved in on campus. Sometimes that gives you information about how easy it is to get involved on a certain campus, or tour guides will often say hi to people, or talk about their other friends, and what they're doing. That kind of also gives you an idea of the kind of interaction and community feel that a campus has. So those are unique things I kind of look at, while also kind of paying attention while you're on the tour, to what's going on around the campus. Look at what other students are doing. Are they interacting? Are kids playing music on the quad? Are they relaxing? What does that culture look like? And you can get a feel for a campus a lot of times, not just by the tour guide, but by the students, or even professors you're seeing walking around the campus around you while you're doing your tour.

Pickett: Yeah. And I would say the best time to visit a campus is always when they're in session, so when students are on campus; because you want to figure out, what's the vibe of this campus? What does it feel like to be here as a student? Sometimes you just don't have the time energy, money, effort to be able to go, so you have to go during the summer, or you can't go at all. But if you can get there during the school year, I always recommend that.

I would also pick up on something Yvonne just said, is I, as a college counselor, after the tour, just go hang out on campus. And what I'm looking at is how are students interacting? Are they laughing? Are they joking? Are they working together, or is everybody by themself? And the places to do that are on the quad. So the quad is usually the grassy area where people hang out. In the student center, in the dining hall, are there groups of people walking, or just all solo? Those little dynamic pieces are part of your college process as well.

Because again, the people matter just as much as the academics, the environment, the area; because these are going to be your friends for the next four years, and you're going to be peers for your life after this, because it is a mutual relationship of dating, realistically, for you and your college.

So with that, thank you both for joining me. Sadly, that's all the time we have today. We've had a lot of fun, a lot of smiles, a lot of joy, and some dancing in here, too. Apparently we're all good dancers, so that's been fun. And I just want to say thank you both so much for joining, and thanks to you in the audience for joining us for this episode.

Espinoza: Thank you.

Campbell: Thank you for having us.

Eddie Pickett: College Admissions Decoded is a podcast from NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling. It is produced by LWC. Kojin Tashiro produced this episode. If you would like to learn more about NACAC's guests, our organization, and the college admissions process, visit our website at, or spelled out Please leave a review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. See you next time on College Admissions Decoded.

CITATION: National Association for College Admission Counseling. “How to Make the Most of College Visits” NACAC College Admissions Decoded, National Association for College Admissions Counseling, December 15, 2021.