Kent Parker* should have been ready for his college visits. Since the middle of his junior year in high school, he'd been skimming college guides and brochures, and surfing the Internet for prospective schools.
Then packets of information started arriving…and arriving and arriving. Before he knew it, there was an unopened mountain of envelopes in his room. The stack looked overwhelming and intimidating. He knew he needed to look through each packet, checking out which ones were a good match for his interest in missions. He knew he needed to narrow his choices before he could plan any college visits. But he just couldn't force himself to conquer that mountain.
That's where his parents came in.
"It seemed like my parents were always on my case," Kent says. "'Get on the ball, Kent. Get on the ball. You need to start working.' It was a lot of pressure for me. But now I see that without that pressure I would have just let those packets sit there."
So Kent finally, well, got on the ball. He looked through all those packets and kept those that had what he wanted and discarded those that didn't. Then he called admissions counselors and probed for more information and details about each remaining school. Again, he discarded those schools that didn't fit what he was looking for. By early in his senior year, he'd chosen his top three schools and made plans to visit each one.
Kent, a junior at Bethany College of Missions in Bloomington, Minnesota, is now thankful for his "nagging parents." He's also thankful that he made his visits early in his senior year, and stresses that early visits give you plenty of time to carefully evaluate all available options.
That's something Val Rios wishes she'd done. Val, a sophomore at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, ended up at a school she loves, despite not starting her visits early enough. Since she waited until spring of her senior year, she didn't have much time to make her final decision.
"Get started early," she now advises, "because there's so much to do. If you don't do it in organized increments, it gets really overwhelming at the end."
Another downside of starting late? You may miss out on some much-needed scholarship cash.
"I made the decision to attend ACU after they had awarded all their scholarships," Val says. "I got a little bit of financial aid, but half of my tuition came from outside scholarships that I had to work to find. It was really difficult."
The bottom line, say Kent and Val: The earlier you visit, the better.
Making the Visit Happen
The best college visits take a bit of time, effort and organization. Planning your visit isn't simply a matter of showing up on campus. The best college visits take a bit of time, effort and organization.
"I'd been in good contact for a couple months before I visited during the fall of my senior year," says Kent. "I'd called to ask questions about the programs and costs, and about my plans to visit."
Donnel Oliver also did a lot of advance planning with the admissions office: scheduling class visits in areas of personal interest (including a psychology class), one-on-one time with a professor, time with student government members, and a tryout with the school's chorale. Donnel, a senior at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, says his planning paid off because "the admissions office connected me with the right people." And those right people ended up giving him a lot of individual attention—something that may not have happened if they hadn't penciled his visit into their packed schedules.
Before her trip to the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, Liz Garthright arranged to spend time with the school's softball team and coach. And her time even included a chance to practice with the team. During practice and throughout her visit, Liz said she got a chance to observe the coach's style and see how the team got along with each other.