If you’re lucky, there’ll be a moment during your student’s campus tour when he or she knows: “This is it. This is the place I want to call home for the next four or more years.”
But getting to that “ah-ha” moment doesn’t happen by chance. It takes considerable conversation, investigation and exploration.
Let’s start with conversation. College is a big step. But that step looks remarkably different depending on who’s looking at it. It’s important for students and parents to get on the same page early on about things like college costs, financing, grade expectations, housing and transportation.
Experts suggest that parents and students can begin the college conversation as early as middle school. Those early discussions can be as simple as investigating what various colleges cost and the types of programs available to assist with college tuition. Savings plans, such as the Missouri 529 Plan, provide investment opportunities that come with tax benefits. Parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends can set up 529 accounts and name the student as their beneficiary. Some restrictions on use do apply, but largely 529 plans can be used to pay for tuition, books and other expenses at colleges across the country.
According to the experts at the nonprofit College Board, the average cost of one year of college – tuition, fees, room and board – increases at an average college-cost inflation rate of 6%; by 2023 those costs could be close to $25,000 per year for a public college and more than $56,000 per year for a private college. Planning is essential.
“We encourage prospective students to really look at the pros and cons, things that are important to them as they start their college search whether that be from the academic side of things or the student involvement side of things,” explained Kara Schilli, assistant vice president for Lindenwood University. “We encourage them to do their homework ahead of time.”
Having realistic expectations, especially in regard to costs, can help a student prepare for college long before taking campus tours, which usually take place in a high school student’s junior and senior years. But cost is just one factor in choosing the right school. Fit is another.
When it comes down to investigating college options, the first questions asked should be directed to the student.
Where do they envision themselves? Big university? Smaller one? Close to home? Far away?
“Students need to think about the type of campus culture they’re hoping to attain,” Schilli said.
Talking with an admissions counselor can be tremendously helpful, as are questions like: Are internships available? Does the school offer career services? Are there opportunities to build leadership skills on campus? Do employers recruit students on campus? Who are some of the college’s notable graduates?
Keeping a notebook of questions and answers is an important tool for campus tours.
“Here at Lindenwood, our student ambassadors lead our campus tours, which really provides prospective students a wonderful opportunity to connect with a current student and ask them about day-to-day life inside the and outside of the classroom.
“We also allow students and their families to customize tours. Whether they’re hoping to meet up with a faculty team member or an academic advisor, we certainly can set up one-on-one time when they can meet someone to dive a little bit deeper into the curriculum, outcomes, experiences, etc.”
On tour, students have the opportunity to visit many of the shared spaces that make up the campus, such as dorm rooms, recreational centers, auditoriums and sports centers. But Schilli also suggests that students and parents visit the campus’ public spaces, such as the library and book store, cafeteria and common areas. Sit on campus a while and watch the comings and goings of the student body. Beyond the campus, Schilli suggests exploring the local community.
“We invite prospective Lindenwood students and their families to explore St. Charles, visit Main Street and just kind of get an understanding of not just campus but the community around us,” she said.
Maryville University, located in West St. Louis County, takes campus tours a step further by offering targeted visit days such as its Design and Visual Arts Day on Oct. 12. On that day, visiting students will have the opportunity to explore Maryville’s design labs and studios, meet current students, tour the campus, meet with faculty and learn about scholarship opportunities. Much the same happens on other targeted and general tour dates [visit maryville.edu to learn more].
According to Schilli, campus tours can be transformative.
“When you step on campus and meet with the folks, walk through the buildings and really get to see campus, you really have to trust your gut. If you have a sense of belonging, that this is a community that you can see yourself a part of, that’s the goal. While we want every prospective student to become a Lindenwood Lion, we know that’s not reality. So we encourage students to always tour at least the top five schools on their list. Finding the right fit means they’ll be happy freshmen and proud alumni.”
Schilli acknowledged that many students have dream schools, someplace they, or Mom or Dad, have envisioned them attending for years.
“But then the student gets on campus and it just doesn’t feel right,” she said. “Touring helps to put things back into perspective. When you experience campus firsthand you learn a lot more than you can just by reading about it or seeing it in videos.”