The 5 W's of College Visits

Posted by Neal Schwartz on February 16, 2023

college visits:

Who, What, where, when, and Why


campus tour brown

One of the most revered times for a parent is the college visit. When done properly, it can be one of the best experiences to get to know your child beyond their activities and schoolwork. Most important is that the focus of the visit is solely on the child applying for colleges. It’s not about mom or dad’s busy career(s) or about a sibling and their life. Most importantly, it is about choice—the ability to choose any academic focus at any one of hundreds of colleges. Oh, and they will likely be living somewhere else for four years. And doing (or not doing) their laundry and making (or not making) their bed.

We are approaching the time of year when parents take students on college visits. I was prompted to write this particular blog post because it seems as if college visits follow some secretive set of rules. My thoughts are to try and bring some pause and reflection to the process with the hope of making it a more productive experience for all.


Every family seem to approach this differently. Some bring both parents but based on work and the needs of the rest of the family, it is more common to have one parent assigned to certain colleges and split the rest with the other parent. Sometimes, out of necessity, a sibling might wind up in the mix. Depending on the age of the sibling, they may be excited to tag along, bored and along for the ride or angry that they were dragged along and begin to distract from the learning that the student and parent need to appreciate one college versus another.

My advice: if this is an early visit (student is a HS Sophomore, or Fall semester Junior), it is more OK to bring along a sibling. If during a more serious visit (student is a Junior in their Spring semester or anytime Senior year) leave the sibling at home. This is a time for a focused visit to acquaint your son or daughter with the college and not a “family event.”



Following the above:

What kind of visit is it?

Is this an Early visit, one in which you will want to distinguish your child’s preferences? I refer to these as “category” visits, since your child will be deciding their favorites in categories such as:

  • Large/small
  • Urban/suburban/college town
  • Liberal arts/Technical
  • Private/Public

Is this a Serious Visit? (closer to application time)


Regardless of which type of visit, stop into the Admissions office and record your visit to mark your child’s interest with the school.

During visits, most colleges offer:

  • An information session – presentation with video messaging from the school with the possibility to ask questions
  • Campus Tour

Some combine these into one offering.

Try to arrange for an “unofficial tour”. This would be with a current student who might be a relative, sibling of one of your son/daughter’s friends, or someone you found who graduated from your child’s high school. It can be invaluable to hear things that might not be covered on the official tour.

If you are able to dine on campus where students dine, take the time to do that. If the campus is integrated with the college town, try to eat where students eat “off-campus”. If offered the opportunity, without being weird and completely embarrassing your son/daughter, ask permission to speak with current students and ask them about their impression of their school. This is chancy but can be invaluable.


Regardless of how tired you are during your trip. Pull out a pad at your next meal that day and write down the learnings from each school, especially what was liked and what wasn’t. When you visit a bunch of schools in a short period of time, they will all blend together. Recording what was learned can often be incredibly valuable to your own decision, as well as critical information to answer supplemental essay questions like “Why ____ college?

Vassar tour


What colleges do you visit? Where are they? How are you selecting the schools to visit?

I think this becomes obvious when on a later or serious visit. By definition, it is “serious” when you have a well thought out rationale.

When it comes to the Early or Category visits, this is where more planning time would be extremely helpful. In the last decade, parents seem to follow the Brand Names. And many in our neck of the woods will travel across America to look at schools. Typically, when I ask why and how the schools were selected, I get silence or a blank look. When a sophomore visits a school, without using the lens of a category, it can be disturbing. If the student has average grades (in today’s world that is a B or lower), visiting a school that only takes A+ students can be defeating and counterproductive. Sure, there are times when viewing a school with a 4% admit rate makes sense and can even be motivating for a prodigy, but I would argue that those are exceptions.

Advice: The messaging that is inherent with the choice of colleges on the trip is communicated both positively and negatively to students. And for those on a budget, visiting what is likely to be an unattainable school is also costly from a dollar, time, and opportunity cost. Time is precious. Use it to visit schools that have a chance for a good fit.

Advice: Often schools are visited because they are nearby the other college which is the main draw. Sometimes this makes perfect sense but rushing out to the “C” list school that is “on the way” may prevent you from completing the primary school visit and getting a quality view.

Advice: Before you hop on a plane or take a 5 hour trip with an overnight to a school, make sure you are doing it as a means to gain knowledge on the “category” or finalizing why this “serious” school needs to be seen.




Non-Vacation weeks:

Usually, any time within this framework is great.

Best time is during your own School District’s Superintendent’s Day when other schools may not be off. However, it is best to avoid going when the college is in exam week.

Vacation weeks:

The majority of college visits are made during vacation weeks. The obvious reasons are that the students are on break and there is a possibility one or both parents can schedule during these times.


This is extremely convenient for those that have successfully secured official tours and sessions


Many families will be shut out of tours/info sessions:

Everybody else is seeing the school during these vacation breaks and you may be “shut out” of tours and info sessions if not scheduled well in advance. The alternative to not getting a true reservation and still visiting the campus is that your son/daughter may get less insight and accurate knowledge about the school. And if they internalize things, they may become disinterested in the school - something like: “I didn’t want to go to this school anyway” , “I don’t feel welcome here”, “I can’t believe they don’t have their act together enough to let us see the campus—we came all this way… and for what?”. So, this can be a classic case of the parent viewing, “well we will just see the campus on our own—we are already here”. And the child being in a completely different place.

When on an official tour during a holiday break, you are likely to experience larger than normal crowds with less than perfect communications from the school. I visited the same school with all three of my kids. For the one that went during a holiday break we had a horrendous info session with hundreds of students and a tour where it was impossible to keep up with the tour guide: there were just too many for the school to handle.



Here are questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this the right time to visit this school?
  • Is my son/daughter committed to these college visits?
  • Are they understanding the difference between a “category” and a “serious” visit?
  • Are we visiting schools “too early” or “too late”?
  • How much research on the school was done before we “booked” the visit?
  • How many schools are we visiting?
  • Do we have enough time to assess the visit?


So, take this guide to heart when planning and going on your college visits.

We are here to help once you get home from your trips with all the elements of the college process. We look forward to assisting with college selection and the many college application components and essays. Give us a call or email us—we will help make sense of the changing college landscape and increase your children’s chances of getting into their top choice colleges.

We can help support you through this anxious and critical time with our academic tutoring, test prep, and college decision making expertise. Give us a call today.   914-273-2353

Best Regards,

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Neal Schwartz, Owner

College Planning of Westchester

914-273-2353 (office)

914-500-5899 (mobile/text) 

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Topics: College Applications, college preparation, college admissions, college tours, college visits, college counseling, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, small liberal arts college, vacation week, college info session


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