Emily Baldwin on campus at Hendrix College in Conway.

Is your high school senior heading to college next year? If you are in the process of scheduling campus visits, you will certainly want to take advantage of the time you spend there. Last year, my daughter Emily and I visited eight different colleges. We included both institutions she wanted to see as well as a few that were in close proximity to those she wanted to attend. Armed with a campus map and an appointment with admissions, we started the journey to help us determine the name of her future alma mater.

Here are a few things we did to make the most of our visits:

Check out the vibe. The vibe includes not only the campus and what it offers, but also the community that surrounds it. Is it easy to get around campus? Does it feel safe? What amenities are provided? How do the students interact with each other, with their community and with you? These are questions that can help you get a good sense of daily life at the school.

Rhodes College in Memphis was one of Amy and Emily's college tours.

Review what the college communicates. What information does the admission staff provide? How detailed is that information? We visited two institutions, for example, that provided a realistic picture of what we could expect in terms of scholarship opportunities and financial aid options. The others breezed over standard information on costs. While I know that no school can guarantee financial aid packages and net costs, it was reassuring to hear staff speak openly about what’s on everyone’s mind: Will we be able to afford this college?

Find out what the college really offers. After just a few campus visits, you will quickly realize that most schools offer comparable opportunities for students. Degrees, majors, student organizations, study abroad programs and internships are often similar. The best schools encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities.

Take a back seat. Give your student space to consider the school for themselves. Yes, you will be driving some parts of the college admission and selection process, but the college visit is good time to take a backseat. Your opinion will matter eventually, but hold your thoughts until after the visit is over.

Get your student involved. As you take that back seat, let your student slip into the driver’s seat. That means your student should choose the institutions to visit, schedule the appointments and engage in the tour and conversation with admissions staff. Be assured that if you are more interested in the college than your student, it will be noted!

Talk about it. After each visit, ask your student how the visit went. Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

  • What did you like best about the visit?
  • What did you like least about the visit?
  • What opportunities or unique characteristics interest you the most about this college?
  • Can you see yourself going there?

When you ask these questions, truly listen to your student’s responses. Do this after each visit and encourage your student to write down their thoughts so they can be reviewed as you start the admissions process.

Emily visiting University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

My daughter and I learned a lot during the campus visit process. Our campus visit conversations and notes greatly influenced the final decision. In the end, she decided to attend the college that, during our visit, delivered the best on atmosphere, communication and opportunities.

To see what your senior needs to do to become a college-ready student, check out our sister publication, Arkansas NEXT.

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., has been an educator for more than 20 years. She is currently the Director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas.

Along with Brian Tietje, she co-founded CollegeReadyParent.org to share resources about college readiness with parents. Amy and Brian’s forthcoming book for parents is titled “A High School Parent’s Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials.”