10 Tips for College Visits

I don’t think I need to belabor the insanity that the college search has become. The pressure around this process, that starts for some as young as middle school, is intense and harmful to the mental wellbeing of many students and parents. HOWEVER, going to visit colleges can be really fun, and a great way to expose your child to different vibes and environments.

Here are 10 tips, based on my experience and that of friends and family, on how to make the most out of college visits.

  1. You DO NOT (I repeat do not) have to visit every school your child is applying to. Visiting is expensive and costs way more than the $50-75 application fee. If your kid gets in, there will be time to visit after. Instead of just looking at a school for the college it is, consider the type of school it is and how that resonates with your student. Big, small, city, rural, etc. Use the trip as a way to understand what qualities appeal to him or her, and you can use this to decide on the schools he or she wants to apply to.
  2. Sign up for tours ahead of time, but if you cannot get on a tour, you can still get a great feel for the school by following a campus map. A note about tours. Be mindful of the guide and how he or she affects the experience. A great guide can make a school seem great for your child even if it isn’t and a blah guide can make a school seem wrong for your child even if it isn’t.
  3. Don’t be shy. Talk to students. You an only learn so much online or on a tour. Ask about the things that aren’t readily available like the social life, the campus vibe, the dynamic between students, the rigor of the course load and lots of details about housing. If your child is really excited about a school he or she sees, ask students if they have any advice. Is there anything they wish they did different or something they are happy they did, especially when it comes to roommate selection and signing up for classes.
  4. If you visit, make sure the school has a record you did. Sometimes, they take this into consideration for acceptance. Even if you don’t take an official tour, have your child stop by the admissions office or at the very least, send an email.
  5. Check out the surrounding area, and discuss with your child how life outside campus would be — job opportunities, social opportunities, theater, restaurants, etc. Four years, for some kids, is a long time to only have a campus as their playground.
  6. When you travel, travel the way your child will travel. For instance, if they will mostly drive back and forth, don’t fly them there. Let them feel the distance. When I took my daughter to California to look at schools, we got her a seat in the last row that didn’t recline. Yes, on purpose. She ended up in San Diego anyway, but at least she understood what it would take to get there.
  7. While college visiting may feel like a great opportunity to take a family vacation, consider how much attention your college-bound child needs, their relationship with their siblings and how it may change the dynamic and their ability to feel comfortable exploring, asking questions and being honest.
  8. Write everything down. Bring a pad and paper or better yet, keep a shared list on the List’m app. Your child can give access to anyone who may be helping her make a decision — you, your partner, and a college coach, if they have one. What did you like, what didn’t you like? Be specific, it is the nuances you will forget and these are the things you won’t find on the website. Take pictures on the list and jot down why you took it. I promise, you think you will remember the quad or the library at a particular school, but if you visit several places, all the experiences will start to blend.
  9. Take into account the weather. A bright, sunny day makes everything better and a gloomy day can do the opposite. Even in San Diego, it rains. You want to make sure they like the school for the school and not the warmth they experienced that particular day.
  10. Finally, hold back on your opinion. Even if you are paying for all of it, the next four years are their’s to live. Allow them the space to have their own experience on these visits. Be curious. Ask them questions. Avoid telling them what you think unless they specifically ask. And, as hard as it may be, try to limit your “When I was in college …” stories. This can be an incredibly exciting and wonderful time, but it is also real life, with all its ups and downs. We tend to only remember the beer-soaked good times, when we had no responsibilities, and forget the hard stuff. The less they hear, “These are going to be the best four years of your life,” the more they can let go of unrealistic expectations, and hopefully, walk their own joy-filled (less beer-soaked 🤞) path.




Boston College
Duke University
Elon University
Fairfield University
Gettysburg College
James Madison University
Lafayette College
University of Notre Dame
University of Pennsylvania
Providence College
University of Richmond
Sacred Heart University
San Diego State University
Syracuse University
Tulane University
Virginia Tech
Wagner College
Wake Forest University
University of Wisconsin/Madison

*Love your school and don’t see it here?
Help people see it at its best by making a list of your recommendations.

If you don’t have List’m, download it for free on the App Store.
Available for iOS
When it is downloaded, either click here (on your iPhone) for this list, or search “College Visits” on your home screen.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at drkarenlatimer@gmail.com to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.