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Should a prospective student visit college before applying?  Does a student gain significant advantage visiting or can "Demonstrated Interest" be displayed by attending local fairs, hotel and high school presentations? 

YES. 

Visiting schools is a MUST—at least the ones that are most important to a student. Colleges do take it seriously and it absolutely helps the student demonstrate interest—especially if you’re on the edge (academically or otherwise) or you’re applying to select/top colleges and universities.

Nothing says "I am serious" like showing up on campus. College fairs and online research are good. After all, Big-Brother College knows when you’ve been checking ‘em out—every time you go to a college site. But does your mother suddenly think you’re really doing your homework because the postal worker delivered an info pack from Harvard? C’mon.  

Consider visiting college a “cost of doing business” for applying to (and attending) higher education. (This will become clear when Mom & Dad get that bill for $50K.)  Look at it from the point of view of an admissions team: You are willing to shell out the money to go to their “dream school,” but you can't bother to look at it until you know you're accepted? What does that say? Certainly not "I'm serious."

If this is not enough to get my point across and you or your parents don’t see the import of going to visit, then you better have something really amazing to bring to the table—at the very least, excellent grades. For students who are not clear admits (and who is for the most selective schools?), only attending college fairs and hotel and high school presentations just doesn’t say "I wanna be at your school." Much better (and on the record) is a registered visit. (That means you actually go online and sign up for a scheduled college tour and college info session.)  The same is true for the “clear admit”—schools don't want to waste an offer on a student who does not seem like he or she is ever going to say "yes" if accepted.

And what if you are on the edge academically—and you do bother to figure out a way to visit? You might just get there, decide it's a whopping "not for me" and voilà, you just saved mom and Dad some real $$$$—not to mention the cost of applying.

As for NOT having the time—that is the worst reason not to visit. Make the time. Time is NO excuse. (And summer visits are absolutely fine.)
Making the time is what responsible people do.  If Mom or Dad can't take you, get it together with a few friends and get on a bus or train, or car and get there. (Also, getting in a car with four of your friends saves money; split the gas fare, make a bunch of sandwiches, and off you go. That's what we all did back in the day. When did traveling independently become such big deal for someone who claims to be ready to go off to college?)

If you live in a foreign country, or you're on the other side of the country—and you are not from a family of means—then you get the pass. Then and only then can you settle for meeting with the reps who visit Nigeria. (I am not being sarcastic.)

And if, like many of my truly disadvantaged kids, you really can't afford to visit, then you get a pass. In both cases, you need to find a way to explain your reasons for not visiting in a letter of some sort or in your supplemental essay for that school and you had better done everything else in your power to research that college and write about these extraordinary things you did to get to know the school and its majors and programs beyond fairs. You scoured though YouTube videos, youniversitytv.com, contacted the head of (for example) the College Republicans Club or the GLBT club president, that Accounting professor, and on, and on, and on. And explain why you were not able to visit.

I am serious. It just gets Auntie Evan crazy when y’all come up with excuses like time. I'd like to know what you’re so busy with that you cannot find a day here or there or a weekend to visit three of your ten top choice schools. Think of it this way: If a college was a girl or guy you were into, you’d fall over backward to find the time to get to that first date.

In short, not visiting campuses is “pennywise and pound-foolish.” Ask your grandfather what that means.

Auntie Evan


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