Here are the 4 key objectives of a first college visit; this assumes you will be impressed with the results of your visit, which will require a second visit with a different strategy.
1. Show up unannounced. You want to witness first-hand how flexible and accommodating admission people can be so that your gut instincts will help determine your first impressions. It’ll also tell you how hard the college works on making first good impressions.
2. Ask for the name of the admissions person who handles your geographical area. This is your contact person for future email contacts. Try to meet that person, introduce yourself, and get a business card. It would be wicked cool to trade business cards, so I would get one created with only your name, address, email address, and phone number.
If the college doesn’t assign admissions people on a geographical basis, ask for a business card from one of them and make that person your contact.
3. Ask about the school’s retention rate: “What percentage of freshmen return after the freshman year?” When you get home, look on the school’s website to see if the figure matches what you heard. If the answer is a high retention rate, you want to ask a follow-up question: “Is it because of a proactive college policy to recruit a diverse student body that includes non-A students, or does the school focus on the A students who almost always account for a high retention rate?”
These 2 questions will give you a sense of the school’s orientation or philosophy of recruitment. If you’re not comfortable with the answer, move on to another campus.
4. Ask the killer question that will be most difficult to answer, and as a parent you have a moral obligation to ask it. If the school is going to ask you to spend thousands of dollars, you want to demand an answer to this question: “Because campus safety is in the news all the time, how and when can I get access to the campus police’s records of crime on this campus for the past 12 months?”
This could be a real curve ball question, but you don’t care. Listen carefully to how your question is answered. If the answer sounds too practiced or too routine, such as, “Any incidents or crimes on campus are public record. You can call the local police to get that information.” If you hear this answer, you’re being lied to. The local police do not record all the campus’s incidents because the college wants to keep any real crimes quiet if they can. The most convenient reason to have a campus police force is to hide any potential public relations or image problems that could damage the school’s effort to recruit if disclosure of all crimes is made.
Uncomfortable Fact: Colleges are a business, and image is everything.
Student tour directors are programmed to tell you what you want to hear. Which is why I detest planned tours. You get far better information from students sitting at a dining hall table. But if you take a tour with a young and enthusiastic robotic tour guide, you need to ask questions they don’t hear; however, do not be surprised to hear other parents ask these 3 mind-boggling questions:
1. How’s the food here?
2. What are laundry facilities like?
3. Do students get enough sleep?
Colleges witness parents asking what they view as really dumb questions. These are the equivalent of asking, “Do you have running water?”
If you’re touring a college that requires $40,000 a year, you need to ask tough questions. If you don’t get the satisfactory answers WITH FOLLOW-UP research, perhaps another college will be glad to help you.
Comfortable Fact: There are over 4,000 colleges and universities out there, and you are in the driver’s seat to choose, not the colleges. They know it, but they won’t tell you that they know it.
It’s a game – a game you can win.