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Dig It: Beneath the Surface of the College Visit


“All my friends are doing it.”

It could be worse. Your teenager isn’t claiming that all her friends are sampling the latest cool street drug, or getting full-face tattoos, or enlisting in ISIS. Yet what she’s proposing could be pricier than any of these: she wants you to take her to visit the colleges she’s applying to.

And they’re all on the East Coast and you live in Oregon.

Wherever you live and wherever the coveted colleges are, you’re already doing the math: X number of nights in hotels, plus X number of meals eaten out, plus. . .

If you simply can’t afford a college tour, case closed. If you might have the money, however, it’s time for a cost/benefit analysis that includes a realistic look at pros and cons.

“Demonstrating interest” is often cited as a good reason to visit a college (Link). But research (Link) shows that Brown University, for example, regards “level of applicant’s interest” as very important to the admissions process, while UC Berkeley doesn’t even consider it (Link).

College admissions directors often suggest that “you can tell from the visit if you like ‘this size of school’ or ‘this type of location’” (Link). That makes sense. Although anyone can read about a college’s size and location, we all value firsthand experience ahead of hearsay (Link).

Also, visiting lets you “learn about aspects of the college often unspoken” if you “speak with actual students of the university” (Link). The college consultant that recommends talking to actual students underscores the value of this kind of digging by noting that “college visits can be highly orchestrated,” so “you’ll most likely only see what’s great about the college.”
This implies that value (or lack thereof) lies not in visiting as such, but in whether you get the most out of visiting (Link): will you be a passive spectator or an active investigator?