Visiting a campus in person offers students and their families the opportunity to experience the school firsthand, to form impressions, and assess if it’s a good match. Though specific activities vary by campus, students typically may tour the campus (families are welcome to join the tour as well), interview with an admission officer, attend a class, eat in the dining hall, meet with a coach or conductor, and stay overnight in a residence hall.

Always ask in advance what to expect when you schedule a visit, so that you will not be disappointed when you arrive. The best advice is to remember that this is your child’s college search, even though your role in the process is a crucial one.

The campus visit is a great time for you to learn about health services, the local community, advising services, and campus regulations. Look for “fit” between your student and the school. Ask yourself if you believe your son or daughter would be happy in this environment. Would your student be challenged? Would he or she thrive? It’s important to be positive about your visit—even if it’s raining and you’re convinced it’s not a good fit for your child. Your support and enthusiasm make a difference to your student and can affect the energy level put into the search.

Parents are welcome on tours and encouraged to participate, so wear comfortable shoes—and make sure you understand the directions to campus so you’re on time. If it’s possible to visit the campus without younger family members, you’ll be less distracted, although if they accompany you they generally are welcome on tours. If you’re unable to tour the campus, check the college website for virtual tour links and to read student and faculty blogs to learn more about the community.

Encourage your son or daughter to research the school before visiting so he or she will have specific questions to ask on the tour and in interviews; students with questions that go beyond the basics show interest and preparation. Many students find it helpful to snap photos and label them in order to remember the visit, especially if touring multiple colleges in the course of a few days. It can help to talk about the visit with your student on the way home or within a few days of the visit; you’ll both remember different things and be able to share your impressions. Some parents and students keep separate journals of what interests them on campuses and compare notes after their visits.

If you think of additional questions after visiting, your son or daughter should contact the office of admission by phone or email. Finally, encouraging your student to write brief thank-you notes or emails to the people who spent time with them will help them stand out from the crowd. Every contact they have with a college as a student prospect becomes part of their eventual application and helps to support their stated interest in attending the college.