College Visit Checklist for Parents

By Julia Califano · December 28, 2023 · 7 minute read

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College Visit Checklist for Parents

College visits can be an important part of the school selection process, as parents and high schoolers tour campuses of interest. These visits provide a glimpse of the campus grounds, dorms, classrooms, and more, which can be vital info when deciding whether a school is a good fit or not. Also, the tours are typically led by current students who have insights about what life at the college is like.

But what exactly should you, as a parent, look for? What questions should you ask? The checklist that follows can help you get the most out of the experience.

How to Visit Colleges on Your Lists

Sometimes, students visit college campuses to decide whether or not to apply there. In other cases, they already believe that a particular college is a perfect match for their major and they want to investigate further.

Schedule Visits Strategically

Perhaps your child has applied to — or is interested in applying to — eight colleges. At a basic level, you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to visit a good number of them. How far they are located from your home and from each other will help to dictate how much time these visits will take. As part of this scheduling, you might ask yourself these questions:

•   Which of these campuses are most important to visit? Prioritize appropriately.

•   Which of these colleges are located near (or relatively close to) one another?

•   Do I want to have an informal visit, or do I want to be part of an official open house? If the latter, check as early as possible to see when these events are being held. Are there scheduling conflicts?

•   How much time will each visit take?

•   How can I space out these visits so we can be efficient without rushing through them?

•   What is most important to see and do during each visit?

Pro tip: Once you know that you’ll be visiting a college, you can review its website and social media pages to gather intelligence ahead of time and gain key context.

When Do Virtual College Visits Make Sense?

Perhaps, as just one example, there is a college that is more challenging to visit than others on your list. Maybe it’s a significant distance from your home, or perhaps you have scheduling conflicts or financial pressure that means an in-person visit isn’t looking realistic. In that case, consider going on a virtual tour.

By doing so, you may discover that this college isn’t as appealing as you’d originally thought (which might cause it to drop on your priority list) or it may make you realize that, yes, you need to make a physical tour happen.

One option is to check the college admissions website. You may be surprised to see how many have interactive video tours available.

As a related resource, YouTube has plenty of videos if you search for such terms as “college tours,” “college tour TV,” and other similar words.

Another idea for gaining information without setting foot on campus: You can use the Rate My Professors tool, too, to find information about who teaches at a particular school, noting that ratings are subjective and can be used, as just one example, by students who aren’t happy with grades received.

💡 Quick Tip: Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.

What to Bring to a College Visit

During college visits, you’ll likely be flooded with information and visual impressions, plus with thoughts, ideas, conversations, and more. So, it makes sense to bring something to help you capture all of this information to review later, as needed.

In this quest, your smartphone can be a real asset. You can use it to take pictures of intriguing places on campus or to remind you to ask questions about it. Take videos in the same way and/or record explanations given by college officials.

And, wonderful as technological devices are, don’t forget to bring old-fashioned pen and paper. You might also want to bring along a college visit planner, one where you can list crucial dates and deadlines.

Depending upon how long you’ll stay, make sure you bring enough comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing — and, perhaps most important of all, comfy shoes! You may be doing a whole lot of walking.

Also consider if you will need an umbrella. Or a warmer coat than what you would wear at home. Do you need gloves? Or will it be sunny and warm, requiring sunglasses and sunscreen? You’ll want to have these things on hand to make the visit as comfortable as possible. After all, you’re there to give your full attention to the tour, not your cold hands or soaked shoes.

Pro tip: Depending on your relationship with your child, you may want to take separate tours. You kid can go on one tour group and absorb information without your commentary swaying their opinion or without being embarrassed if you ask a lot of questions. Then you can compare notes after you’ve each seen the campus.

Key Questions to Ask

At some point during the tour, you’ll almost certainly be shown student housing options. Now is the time to ask about the range of dorm choices, how many students live on campus, what percentage of students live on campus versus off-campus, what apartment options exist for, say, juniors and seniors — and any other questions you or your child have about housing.

Other questions to consider:

•   How safe is this campus and the surrounding area?

•   What kind of security do you have?

•   What activities are available for students?

•   Who is allowed to have a car?

•   Where can they park?

•   What transportation options are available for students without a car?

What other questions to ask on a college tour? You can also ask about academics, ranging from sizes of classes, the use of teaching assistants, how much homework is assigned and how much time it typically takes to complete assignments, and more. How easy is it for students to get the classes they need? Is there an honors program? What kind of tutoring services are available?

You might also be curious about the following:

•   What college internship opportunities are available? How easy are they to obtain?

•   How many students study abroad? What opportunities are available?

•   What career services do you offer?

Recommended: What Can You Use Student Loans For?

Financial Issues to Explore

Of course, paying for college is often a key concern. This is an ideal time to get information about typical financial aid packages offered at each college. You might ask some questions of your tour guide or attend a financial aid session to inquire about:

•   What financial aid package can a typical freshman expect to receive at the college?

•   What mix of scholarships, grants, and loans can be expected, on average?

•   What work-study opportunities exist and how easy is it for a student to qualify?

•   If there is scholarship money set aside at a college for students, what are its parameters? Some, for example, may be set aside for female students or minority students.

•   What aid is available after freshman year?

•   Are enough classes offered at flexible times to help students graduate in under four years (and therefore potentially save significant sums of money)?

•   If your child doesn’t qualify for federal work-study, what other jobs are typically available on campus? Off-campus?

💡 Quick Tip: Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.

Financing College

It isn’t unusual for students to need to borrow money to pay for their education. Scholarships and grants are available to help qualified students reduce college expenses and, sometimes, parents may help their children out financially.

Students can get jobs while in college and use their savings to help pay expenses, of course. But if that isn’t enough, many students typically end up borrowing money, with the two main sources being federal student loans (from the government) and private student loans (from private lenders).

To qualify for federal funding, you and your child must fill out the FAFSA®. It can be wise to explore all federal aid options before turning to private student loans.

Recommended: Guide to Parent Student Loans

Parent Student Loans With SoFi

If private loans seem to be a potential path for you, see what SoFi offers. Parents should consider their own financial situation and needs (like retirement) as they consider such options as borrowing a parent student loan.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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