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On The Road

by Jay Jacob Hornick
Local families look to college visits to determine how to pick the perfect school.

Like many families of college-bound seniors, the Price family of Voorhees devoted many road trips to narrowing down a long list of universities that, on paper, met the criteria of 18-year-old Tyler, a serious hockey player and future finance major.

There were whirlwind excursions cramming three campus tours in a single day. Other visits were more leisurely, coinciding with hockey tournaments in the vicinity. And if the schools seemed more or less equal based on their websites and glossy brochures, the distinctions became clear as the family hung out on each campus.

Quinnipiac University in Connecticut hooked them from their first minute on campus, yet the Prices ultimately returned two more times before committing. In the end, even visits to schools they ruled out on sight were worthwhile, as measuring sticks to compare and contrast to Tyler’s first choice, recalls Alec Price, Tyler’s father and a vice president of investments at Merrill Lynch.

“Every time we went to Quinnipiac, we walked away feeling good,” says Price.

While college experts suggest visiting a local college or two as early as freshman and sophomore year, most families get serious about these excursions ahead of the start of the student’s senior year. First and foremost, say parents and students, visit when school is in session.

“If school isn’t in session, all you’re seeing is empty buildings,” cautions Samuella Andre, a Cherry Hill East graduate starting at Drexel University this fall. “Empty buildings won’t give you an idea of what you’ll be doing for the next four years.”

Besides campus tours—which are typically led by students and are a great chance to ask questions—visits offer a chance to sit in on information sessions in which the admissions process is demystified and academic heads explain specifics about various courses of study. Andre also arranged to attend classes during her college visits. Although the calculus may have been slightly over her head, she says it was valuable to observe students in action and to get a sense of the school’s academic climate.

College visits can also provide opportunities to schedule face-to-face interviews with admissions officers. When offered, these meetings may allow students to distinguish themselves from the competition. In addition, students can meet with coaches of varsity sports to get a sense what it will take to make the team.

The Prices also toured an upstate New York college that admitted Tyler with a scholarship. Unfortunately, the visit made clear the school was not a good fit. As Alec Price recalls, the campus was too distant from any major city and the school’s finance department was weak. First impressions were also bad: the orientation was held in a dark, windowless room using an outmoded projection screen. In contrast, Quinnipiac, located in a pastoral setting within hours of Boston and New York City, was a wired campus with an impressive finance department. Classrooms were beautiful and modern. Students seemed to energetically zip around campus.

By visit three, the entire family knew Quinnipiac was the place for Tyler, adds Jocelyn Perkin Price, Tyler’s mother and a Voorhees-based interior decorator.

“The students,” she says, “need to feel like [the college] is a place they can see themselves living, and ultimately succeeding in achieving a degree in a major they are interested in,” she says.

But, as the Prices learned, it can take several visits to determine where that perfect fit might be.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 6 (August, 2011).
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