Prepping for a College Visit: Tips for Parents and Students

Prepping for a College Visit: Tips for Parents and Students

College Visit Preparations: How to Plan a Campus Tour

Why Visit?

After touring a few universities you’ll find that visits are indeed helpful. During your college visit, consider that this is the campus environment and local area where your child will be living for the next 4+ years. And if there are job opportunities in the area, this relocation could be an even longer commitment.

College Visit

You’ll need to discover if a small, medium, or large campus is most suitable. Is a city or suburban campus the best fit? If the locale is of little importance, then you’ll have even more options open to you. More tours, oh my!

Campus visits can be an all-day event or a quick one hour tour. Consider whether you want to take a formal tour through the Admissions office and/or an Academic Department or a self-guided tour. Both have their pros and cons. In fact, for those colleges that remain top on your student’s list, I would recommend both.

Formal Visits

A formal visit will typically involve setting up an appointment via the college’s website and possibly setting up a more detailed visit to the academic department of your child’s intended major.

Formal visits are usually lengthy with a set schedule. Your day could include checking in at the Admissions Office or Welcome Center, a presentation about the school, a general tour given by student ambassadors, lunch in the dining hall or food court, a visit to an empty classroom, a tour through a staged dorm room, a session on financial aid, and more.

Visitor Center at University of Tennessee at Knoxville

A formal visit may involve touring with a large group of students in varied majors or a small group of students hoping to pursue the same course of study.

Event Days

Consider college tours versus larger preview days. Preview days are usually large events sponsored by the school during which you’ll get to tour the campus, sit in on presentations, visit a club fair, and/or see a sporting event. These are campus wide events rather than smaller Admissions Office gatherings. Both are beneficial, although I find the larger events to be a bit more time-consuming and stress-inducing. These larger events however are often planned on weekends rather than weekdays making them possibly an easier fit in your calendar.

Meeting with an Academic Department

You’ll need to set up an appointment with the academic department of interest in advance.

If your visit includes meeting with an academic department, then this is where you’ll want to really take notes. What are the criteria for admissions? Does the school support internships and co-ops? How soon will the student begin taking classes in their major interest of study? What projects are required to be completed during senior year? Do they offer scholarships? Are there first-year class requirements that must be met before a student is admitted into the major?

Engineering Building at Purdue

Will your child be spending a large amount of time in a computer lab, engineering lab, theater, or music room? If so, ask to see that space. If the engineering labs are in an old part of the campus, deep within a tired engineering building, then perhaps the school isn’t putting funds toward that particular curriculum.

Self-Guided Tours and Summer Camps

On the day of your formal tour, I would suggest leaving at least an hour free to spend some time exploring the campus on your own. Visit the bookstore, sit down in the food court and observe students, ask a student some questions. Ask what popular restaurants are within walking distance of campus and have dinner there. You’ll see the prettiest areas on your guided tour but may notice some less than stellar sights roaming on your own. Then again, you may find even more to love as you explore!

We’ve received extremely helpful information from current students participating in our son’s intended major as well as from students in marching band. Ask about the activities that interest your child.

Marching Band Visit at Old Dominion University

Look for summer camps and other ways to spend more time on the campus that most interests your student. For one of Nic’s top school choices, we returned to roam the campus on our own. Consider participating in a summer camp at one of the colleges. A stay in the dorms and more time spent with the students and professors before applying? Yes, please!

Dream School

You’ll often hear talk of a dream school. Is it the one with the best ranking nationally? The best ranking for a certain course of study? A local school with a great football team? An inspiring campus with beautiful buildings? A campus with a plethora of dining options? The party school? The Ivy school? The school with the fantastic hotel-like dorms and outdoor swimming pool? A dream school has a different meaning to each student. Maybe it’s a family member’s alma mater. Your family may require several visits to this school to determine whether it really lives up to expectations or whether it falls flat in some unexpected ways. Then again, a one time visit may result in that dream school sticking and that’s exciting!

Contact Admissions for your college visit

Visit Preparation

Ideally, parents and/or your student should review college materials that have already been mailed or picked up at college fairs. We devised a question sheet before our first college fair and it’s been amazingly helpful throughout our chats with Admissions, College Deans, Professors, and students.

Many colleges have virtual tours on their websites. We like to watch these together on our big screen TV, if time permits.

Confirm start times and locations. On our first college visit, we forgot that we were traveling from the Central time zone to the Eastern time zone. While we left with plenty of time to make up for this error, we then ran into traffic. After a detour, we finally arrived on time but the mad dash stressed us all out and wasn’t a good way to start a long day. Learn from our mistake!

Get a map and directions!

College campuses can also be large and sometimes their layouts are confusing. Consult a college map prior to your arrival. Know where the parking lot for visitors is located and how far it is from your tour’s starting point.

Decide before your visit if you would like to set up a chat with a coach, marching band director, or other person who may be important to your overall college experience.

When to Visit

Try to schedule a visit while the college is in session. Some campuses don’t even give regularly scheduled tours during the summer months. You’ll need to visit during a high school break that doesn’t conflict with the college’s schedule. And this is why you should absolutely start touring colleges early!

Common Data Sets

We do recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare schools. Student body size? Campus size? Number applied? Number accepted? Number enrolled? How many students join a fraternity or sorority? How many men vs women are on the campus? What’s the average ACT or GPA score of accepted students? Is an interview part of the admissions process? How many students live on campus or are from out of state? Do they have a jazz band, newspaper, or other club of interest?

All of these questions can be easily answered with a quick Google search for common data sets. For example, “Auburn University common data set”. Insert the name of each school and voila! Instant data!

Day of Visit

Eat a good breakfast. It may be a long time before you can sit down for nourishment. Some colleges put out a spread of breakfast food, others provide a bottle of water and a meal ticket for later in the day. With lots of walking, sometimes in all kinds of weather, you’ll want to be fortified.

Speaking of weather, check the forecast. We’ve been caught in a downpour. We’ve toured in extreme heat. Bring extra water, even though schools usually have bottles available.

Bring a notebook. We like to sit down with Nic during lunch or immediately after a college visit and ask him his immediate impressions. He may note that he liked or didn’t like the dorms. He’ll give us his thoughts on the engineering facilities. Any random observation that he can look back on to help with his decision is jotted down quickly. Some of these details will be difficult to recall after you’ve visited several campuses, so you’ll appreciate being able to refer back to them.

Welcome Presentation

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Even if the campus is large enough to supply a bus, van, or trolley transportation for part of the tour, you will still be walking and standing on your feet a lot.

Should You Visit Every School of Interest?

It depends. Does time and budget permit? Do you really want your child to see that high reach school before you know if he/she is accepted?

Stats to Look Up

Make the Most of Your College Visit

As an investment in your child’s future, be sure to go on college visits, ask questions, and help guide your child to find the right fit for them.

Out of State College Tour

Is the school with the best ranking, newest buildings, and/or coziest dorms the top pick for your child? Does the school closest or farthest from home appeal more? Is the university with the most costly tuition (or the one offering academic merit scholarships covering the full price of tuition) the best choice?

We don’t have the answers to those questions. What we are concluding is that the best fit for our child will be unique from what the best fit is for yours. There’s not a single path to success. Help your child set their own course with a college visit!

Update: Nic applied to 7 schools. He was accepted to six (Florida Institute of Technology, Purdue, University of TN at Knoxville, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Ohio State, and Auburn University). After careful consideration, Nic has chosen his college path. He’ll be attending Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

College Visits Theme Travel

Now, it’s your turn to help us on our journey to college. Tell us how many colleges your child visited and what was the criteria that led them to pick their school. Or just give us your most helpful tips and advice!

Ten Benefits to Sending Your Child to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama

Ten Benefits to Sending Your Child to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama

Ten Benefits to Sending Your Child to Space Camp

At the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, kids ages 9-18 can take part in Space Camp. If you are an adult yearning to go to Mars, opportunities for adults (and their families) are also available.

Through these doors…

Our son had a long term interest in going to Space Academy. After a move to Nashville, TN, we were within an easy drive of “Rocket City” and thus, we soon found ourselves making the drive to One Tranquility Base.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

We sent our child to his first Camp (he is a Space Academy and Advanced Space Academy graduate) so that he could explore his passion for space exploration. There were so many other benefits that we had not anticipated.

Moving in Day at Advanced Space Academy

Take a look at these ten unexpected benefits and find out why you should send your child to Space Camp:

Making Friends with Kids from around the World

During Nic’s visit to Space Camp, he bunked and/or went to activities with kids from across the globe. Some of the kids he interacted with were from Dubai, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. Since they have unique cultural backgrounds, keeping in touch via text and social media was a fun benefit. In fact, now a college student, Nic still keeps up with some of his space camp friends.

Meet students from around the world

Boasting attendees from all 50 states and more than 60 foreign countries, your child will certainly meet a diverse group of peers with like-minded dreams. This exciting aspect of Space Academy enriched his experience — both during and after camp.

Investment in your Child’s Future

If your child is dreaming about a future as an engineer, medical professional, scientist, etc., then Space Camp will provide an excellent opportunity for classroom instruction and hands-on training in an inspiring and unique setting.

Bunk bed

Habitat rooms are small but campers are exhausted by lights out.

Presentations by NASA professionals may help your child find their career path, especially within the STEM fields.

Astronaut Jerry Ross

Nic shakes hands with Astronaut Jerry Ross

Space Camp encouraged Nic in his future endeavors: During high school, he volunteered at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to earn hours for National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society. After graduating from high school with honors, Nic applied to many schools for aerospace engineering. He found the right fit for him at Auburn University. He is now a Senior at Auburn University with three academic scholarships. In addition to his studies at Auburn, Nic participates on the Payload Team of the Auburn University Rocket Association. During the fall season, he plays trumpet with the Auburn University Marching Band.

Auburn Student at NASA Launch Competition

NASA Rocket Launch Competition

While at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, students see the Space Camp Alumni Wall of Fame that includes NASA and European Space Agency astronauts, engineers, scientists, and technologists. Inspiration is around every corner.

Space Camp Astronaut Alumni Sign

Space Camp Astronaut Alumni

Team Building

A successful day at Space Camp involves lots of teamwork. In order to complete a mission, trainees must work together and embrace individual strengths.

Successful missions take team work

Working together, students tackle space missions, rocket building, and science experiments.

Personal Growth

Previously, Nic had flown alone to see extended family, however this was his first overnight experience where he didn’t know any other adult or peer. The experience of sharing a room with peers, meeting instructors, going to Sick Bay for regular medicine, etc. was a tremendous chance for personal growth.


Space Camp Habitat

As parents of an only child, it also helped us to see Nic as a maturing individual. By putting himself in what was at first an uncomfortable situation, he was able to reach his goal of becoming a Space Academy graduate. In doing so, he had so much fun that I’m sure he would like to become a permanent resident!

Volunteer at U.S. Space and Rocket Center

From Space Camp graduate to volunteer

In fact, Nic applied and interviewed for crew trainer/camp counselor position at Space Camp for summer 2020. While he was SO excited to receive a job offer, it understandably was rescinded due to the COVID-19 situation. HOWEVER… he interviewed again for summer 2021 and was hired. Nic worked as a Mission Control Complex Crew Trainer and Resident Advisor — living and working at Space Camp was one of Nic’s bucket list items. Space Camp continues to be a life changing experience for him. 

Space Camp Hiring Postcard

We’re Hiring Postcard from Space Camp

Yes, space camp graduates never forget their experience!

Leadership Skills

Nic returned from his first Space Camp extremely proud of his accomplishments. In one particular outdoor activity, he was chosen as the leader. During this team building exercise, the team needed to work together and communicate effectively in order to “survive”. Basically, if they fell off a board, they were doomed. 😉

Space Camp

Space Camp Team Building and Leadership

I believe this experience laid the foundation for Nic wanting to pursue more leadership opportunities. In Nic’s 11th grade year, he was co-section leader of the trumpets in his high school marching band. For his senior year, he was promoted to Brass Captain.

Adult Role Models Boost Self-Confidence

After two Space Camps, there is no doubt that the trainers picked to inspire the trainees are chosen carefully. Nic talks fondly of his trainers and as any excellent teacher, their inspiration has stayed with him. These adult role models boosted his self-confidence by cheering him on, placing him in a leadership role, chatting about their interests, and possibly, demonstrating that you can be a space nerd and still be “cool”.

Space Camp Graduation

Space Camp Graduation

Creative Problem Solving

Problem solving is a task that was greatly encouraged at Space Camp. Around every turn, creative solutions were developed in order to succeed in mission control, rocket building, and other areas.

Problem solving is made fun at Space Camp

Nic has shown great determination in finding ways to solve a problem rather than wasting time on the frustration of its complexity. With the help of two Space Camps and his academic pursuits in high school and college, Nic greatly matured in his time management, study, and problem-solving skills. This was most apparent in his GPA, ACT scores, and difficult engineering classes. 

Character Building

Space Camp brings students together who have similar passions. One of your child’s team members may be obsessed with rocketry; another may want to pilot airplanes. All of the trainees look to the sky with fascination. It’s an incredible setting that can bring together students that otherwise may not hang out with each other in high school. Football players mingling with marching band students? Yes, it can happen at Space Camp. Once there, individuals find value both as followers and as leaders while their previous high school labels are left at home.

Space Camp Mission

Building character through missions

As a parent, you’ll appreciate that Space Camp is a true character building environment that embraces natural ability rather than popularity. Indeed, individuality is encouraged in order to find success at the given missions.

Promotes Fitness

Daily exercise and fitness is promoted during a five-night stay at Space Camp. It’s never a bad thing to get a kid away from technology in order to discover the fun in the outdoors or indoor pool. At Space Camp, fitness is often paired with a team building activity. It’s a win-win lesson for all trainees.

Space Camp Activity

Fitness combined with problem solving and team work

Real World Applications of Math and Science

Knowledge is priceless; sometimes a high school student can’t grasp that concept while sitting through a boring math lesson. However, when a student sees the real world applications that have been utilized by rocket scientists, for example, algebraic equations become a bit more magical. State-of-the-art simulations of space missions inspire students to pursue more challenging math and science classes. 

Mission Control

Real World Math, Science, and Technology at Space Camp’s Mission Control

In high school, Nic took two AP Physics classes, Astronomy, and more. And in college, he has now taken classes such as Thermodynamics and Linear Differential Equations.

Auburn University Aerospace Engineering Student

Auburn University Aerospace Engineering Student

Space Camp Information

Rocket Scientist, Dr. Wernher von Braun, believed there should be a place to encourage students to experience the excitement of space exploration. With that mission in mind, the first Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Edward O. Buckbee, founded Space Camp!

Celebrating Advance Space Academy graduation

Mission Accomplished!

U.S. Space & Rocket Center
One Tranquility Base
Huntsville, AL 35805

Does Space Camp interest your child (or yourself)? Let us know in the comments below!