Schedule a Campus Visit for Spring Break

It’s Time to Get to Know Potential Colleges

High school juniors who will begin applying to colleges in the fall of 2016 have an even better reason for scheduling campus visits early this year. There is a change coming in the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) timeline which could affect your college application planning. The FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year, which will be your freshman year of college, will be available beginning October 1, 2016.

Previously, you might have applied to colleges in the fall, but would have waited until January to complete this form. That put a long period of time between application and financial aid award, so the Department of Education hopes this brings the decision-making process closer into alignment. What that means for current high school juniors, though, is that you will be the first class to experience this compressed timeframe.

It will mean a lot more college application work will need to be completed over the summer, which brings us back to those campus visits. Talk to your parents about setting up some road trips now so you can get up close and personal with prospective colleges. Here are some things to consider for your college visits:

  • Use the visits to narrow your list: You could be applying to colleges in a few short months and want to make sure you have your list narrowed down to those which interest you the most. Use these visits to get a feel for the vibe of the campus and learn how you might fit in there. Try to get inside some of the student living and recreation areas as you will spend a lot of time in those places. If classes are in session, try to attend some in the academic area you are pursuing and meet some of the professors and students.
  • Talk to admissions and financial aid: Don’t just take the tour and talk to the people the school puts out as their ambassadors. Schedule actual meetings with officials who will have input on your acceptance, financial aid awards and scholarships. Have questions ready to ask these people, and be prepared to answer questions they will ask you. Prepare a few insights about why you think you will be a good match for this college.
  • Get real information: You don’t just want to hear what the canned presentation is; you want to get real information about your chances for success here. Ask how many freshmen come back for their sophomore and junior years. Find out how many students graduate in four years, and then look at the job statistics for students in your major. How many found employment, and how much are they getting paid now? This information will help determine the value of a degree from each specific college.
  • Take notes: If you schedule visits to several colleges, it can get confusing trying to remember things you liked or did not like about each of them. Think about some way to take notes in advance - use anything from a simple pen and paper or save ideas on your phone. Then review your notes when you get home to help crystallize your thoughts about each school. This will also help you later on when you are filling out applications.

Taking time to schedule a visit especially demonstrates your interest in a particular college. When admissions officers look at applications from two similar candidates and find that only one visited, it just might play a pivotal role in swaying the decision your way.