How can you and your student make the most of your time on a campus visit? What specific questions should you ask? And who, exactly, should you talk to? Here, several Christian college admissions counselors share advice for how you can prepare for the college visit and ultimately find the best school for your son or daughter.
Talk and listen carefully
Before your family visits any campus, sit down with your son or daughter and ask him or her what it is they hope to get out of their college experience. Have your child make a list of their interests and goals, then discuss the schools he or she is drawn to. Encourage your student to speak freely about his or her own needs, dreams and vision for the future. And avoid projecting your own values or priorities onto your child.
"I've seen students clam up when their parents are around," says Bart Walker, director of admissions at Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina. "The second Mom or Dad leaves the room, though, they'll blurt out, 'Mom's hung up on me majoring in chemistry, but I want to go into business. What's your business program like?' This is why it's important to have those frank discussions prior to the visitso that you know what's going on inside your child's head."
Amy Holderby, associate director of admissions at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, suggests parents and students discuss what she calls the "non-negotiables."
"For instance, if parents have raised their son or daughter to hold to a key area of belief but a certain university not only doesn't support it but teaches against it, then that's a non-negotiable," says Holderby.
Though matters of belief may be among the non-negotiables, admissions experts say it's a good idea to be flexible about other guidelines.
"Keep in mind that sometimes the most important things at the start of your search don't end up being the most important things in the end," notes Michelle Hammaker, assistant director of admissions at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. "Or perhaps something that your child may have originally viewed as a negativelike a curfewdoesn't end up being that big of a deal when weighed against all the positives the school has to offer."
The bottom line: Examine your own non-negotiables and determine if they really are "hills to die on." If they are, stick to them. If not, let go of them. Encourage your son or daughter to do the same.
Do your homework
Admissions experts stress the importance of doing your homework prior to the campus visit. Get online to peruse college websites and carefully read through the materials the college has sent.
"Having your surface-level questions answered ahead of time keeps you from getting bogged down with the general questions that can easily soak up the day," explains Robert Heil, assistant vice president for enrollment at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. "Instead, you can spend your time digging deeper to get the nuts and bolts of a campus."
Think about how the campus' facilities will accommodate your child's needs. Also, ask focused questions that will help you get a feel for what your child's experience would be like on that campus.
"Let's say your daughter wants to study music," says Walker. "Find out what the music facilities are like. Are there private practice halls available, or will your daughter be driving her roommate nuts?"
Extracurriculars are also worth exploring. Perhaps your son was involved in athletics all through high school. Find out what kind of intramural opportunities are available and how easy it is for students to get involved.