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Staying Sane During College Applications

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Crib Sheet: Making the Most of a Campus Visit

Even though student blogs, virtual tours and streaming video can bring a college to life from afar, nothing beats hanging out in the student union, sampling the pizza and peeking in the dorms. Travel is costly, but try to swing as many visits as possible. Some do's and don'ts:

  • Do make every effort to go when classes are in session. An empty campus just isn't the same, and the lack of student energy can bias you against a good school.
  • Don't visit more than two schools in a day; the details will start to blur.
  • Do explore from all angles. Attend the information session and tour, but wander around too. Hit the cafeteria and bookstore, chat up students and read school papers for an attitude check. Amy got turned off to one school after seeing so many dressed-up girls, then reading a newspaper article that bragged about having California's most beautiful students.
  • Don't blow off your teen's observations-no matter how trivial they seem. I laughed when Amy counted how many kids wore the school shirt, until I realized that it was how she measured spirit. But I'll never understand why she rejected a school because it had an ugly smokestack!
  • Do document each visit thoroughly in words and pictures. Besides jotting thoughts in a notebook, we used our cell phone cameras to remember dorms and quads.
  • Don't editorialize. Open-ended questions like, "What did you think?" are okay, but avoid comments that might sway your kid's real feelings, such as "I didn't think you'd like a place where the classes are so big." When evaluating a visit, aim to let your teen speak first and last.

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