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  • Jason Flurry, CFP

Everything you need to know about making college follow-up visits



As you probably know, there are thousands of colleges in the country and each one is uniquely different in a variety of ways. That’s why it’s essential that whenever possible you visit as many of them as you can to get a feel for how they operate. You want to understand how you fit into their community and see how what they can offer you will help you reach your goals, both in college and beyond.


Most students are doing these college visits during their sophomore and junior years of high school and sometimes that carries over into the early part of fall in the senior year too. But, what I’m sharing with you today is related to that second or maybe even third visit a student makes to a particular university. It’s this visit that usually helps them decide if this is the right school for them or not. Getting the step right in the college planning process can help you avoid mistakes and make the best decision possible when it comes to making that final college selection.


I’ve found that depending on when you start doing college visits, a lot can change in the mind of the student and in everyone’s perspective once you’ve had a chance to see several different colleges. The passage of time can make the warm glow of an early college visit really fade, so it’s important that you go back for another look as your preparing to make your final decisions.


If you looking at colleges that are kind of similar in size or maybe similar in their setting, like maybe they’re all in college towns or in larger cities or in suburban areas, it’s easy for some of the characteristics of these colleges to run together. You want to go back and have another look to make sure you don’t have your signals crossed.


That first visit you made was really a mission of gathering information, getting a sense of the vibe of that school, and experiencing the energy and the opportunities available within their community. The purpose of a second visit or any other follow-up visit though is to confirm your impression of the first visit, to dig deeper to gain more insights into that particular college, and to explore opportunities to improve your offer when it comes to scholarships and grants.


Getting perspective There are couple of different ways to do these follow-up visits. One is unstructured where you just show up, walk around on your own, and more or less hangout on campus for a while to see what campus life is really like. You can casually talk to students as they mill around the campus and observe if they seem happy. Everyone you met on the first visit when your tour guide showed you around might’ve been very pleasant, but on the second visit you may observe a lot more people who feel stressed or seem overwhelmed.


Pay attention to those kinds of clues along with things like are people walking together talking or is everybody walking alone with earbuds in their head staring at the ground. You may not have noticed these aspects during your first visit because everything was new. The second visit is a great time to take notice of what’s really going on campus in general and see what actually happening at the dorms when the tour group isn't looking. This will be your students home away from home and it’s critical that you understand what daily life is really like.


That’s the unstructured way of making a follow-up visit but you can also make a structured follow-up visit too. One way to do this is to simply schedule it through the college much like you did your initial visit. You may actually go on the same tour and see the same things, or maybe this time you can schedule a tour with the Honors College to see how different life is for an honors student at that school. If you’ve already been accepted, the school may actually reach out to you and invite you back to campus for an accepted students weekend or some other special event. I’ll talk about that more a minute, but in each of these situations, all of your activities are planned and there’s a clear agenda the college will be following as your host while you're there.


What to do while you're there Regardless of whether your visit is structured or unstructured, you want to confirm that the college still feels and looks the same as you remembered. Hopefully, with a follow-up visit, it’s gotten even better. But, if you don’t feel the same level of connection, that’s something to pay close attention to while you’re there.


The second thing you want to do in a follow-up visit is dig deeper. With follow-up visits you have a wide variety of things available to you, such as auditing a class or talking to the Honors College or to a department head who oversees the major you’re interested in most. You may want to schedule a meeting with the head of some campus organizations or groups you find appealing and possibly spend some time getting to know the community around the school so that you’re more familiar with the area and what it has to offer.


Something I’ve found that can be very important in making a final decision is the opportunity for a student to spend the night on campus. Many colleges offer this type of opportunity and you may have to contact the admissions office to see how to make the arrangements if you can’t find it on their website. In talking with many students at a variety of colleges and going on the experience some of my own children have had doing an overnight visit like this, spending time with a host, getting to go to class with them and getting to hang out with other students on campus in a relaxed manner will help a student know if this is a place where they could fit in and thrive or not. I’ve also had situations where students have observed bad behavior and other things that were deal killers for them as far as that particular college was concerned. It’s good to know these things up front because they can help you avoid making a decision all of you will regret later.


The last critical thing you really want to do on a follow-up visit is make every effort possible to improve your offer. Usually, this is done most often on a structured follow-up visit versus just showing up unannounced. Most colleges offer some sort of scholarship weekend for their best students or an accepted students event where they invite you back on their campus late in the decision cycle so they can show you some love and try to close the sale with you. This is where you get the VIP treatment and have opportunities to meet one-on-one with department heads, Honors College people, and decision-makers in Admissions and Financial Aid. If you don’t walk away from one of these experience feeling impressed, that’s probably a sign that this is not the college for you.


Remember that you're the boss Keep in mind as you do these follow-up visits, and really from the very beginning all the way through, the colleges are businesses. You're their customer and you want yourself to become an educated consumer so you get the best opportunities possible for your kids at the lowest possible cost for you. The colleges chose these scholarship weekends and accepted student events in an effort to try to close the sale with you. They want to bring you back on their turf late in the decision cycle under very favorable circumstances hoping it will create a tipping point in your mind that causes you to ultimately choose them as your dream school.


The way they phrase these kind of events makes it sound like they’re doing you a favor or upgrading you, which makes you feel really good and piques your interest in them. The truth of the matter is though this is all just a part of their sales choreography. They realize that you get to make the final decision on where your kids will go to college and the burden of proof is on them to persuade you that they're the one for you. Use these opportunities to leverage your position with them and don’t be shy about asking for more to improve your offer.


If the college has done a really good job and you’re still impressed with your subsequent visits, maybe that means this IS the college for you. If not, like I said earlier, pay close attention to your gut feelings. Try to determine what changed in your mind or with them since the last time you were there. You have until May 1 of your senior year in high school to make a final decision, so don’t feel rushed or pressured by the colleges or anyone else. Choosing your college is a big decision and you need to have some peace of mind with whichever direction you decide to take.


You're in good company The colleges are good at what they do. You have to remember this. It may be your student's first time to go to college, but they are in the business of being a college. They definitely have an advantage on most people, but because you read this blog, you’re smarter than the average bear. You’re learning things that give you a fighting chance to beat the colleges at their own game and that will definitely help you get better outcomes. Use the strategies I’ve shared with you today and I think you’ll find that they’ll will help you better identify the best fit college for your student when the time comes.


Speaking as a College Planning Specialist and a dad with kids in college myself, I can tell you with great confidence that there’s nothing quite like knowing that your kids are in the right place and that you’ve done all you can to get a good deal for them and for yourself. Good luck with your planning. I’ll be back again soon with more valuable insights that will help you make college more affordable.

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