Parents ask me all the time “Is it too soon to go on a campus visit?” Unfortunately, the parents who usually ask that question are indeed asking too soon. There is such thing as too soon for campus visits because too many students get burned out on campus visits when they start their visits well before the application process.
Campus visits matter most in junior and senior year of high school. When students are visiting colleges at a time when it’s relevant then they tend to learn more from the experience. Also, for colleges that track “demonstrated interest”, having an official visit during that time can help with admissions prospects. The other benefit to visiting when students are actively engaged in the application process is that the visit helps with writing a more compelling essay about why that particular college is a good fit.
There are a few colleges that may host special events for 9th or 10th graders. I think
those visits are OK to attend, perhaps as part of a family trip to that area. I don’t suggest making a special trip out of the way just to attend.
What I see more often is that parents are taking their middle schooler or 9th grader to visit the more prestigious, selective universities. That adds a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress. Yes, Princeton may have a beautiful campus, but is it really necessary to visit when it’s not even certain that Princeton is a good fit for your teen? It can even be a bit tricky when a parent takes their child to a reunion event. That too can set the expectation that your child should attend or at least apply to the your alma mater.
The best time for students to visit is winter and spring of junior year after researching where it makes the most sense to visit. The summers are good for visits, but families should keep in mind that the campus vibe may be a bit quieter and less impressive. Some colleges offer special overnight visits for seniors. These are great to take advantage of but can be hard to fit into the senior schedule, especially if a teen has a fall sport.
So the short answer to our initial question on is it too soon to do a campus visit is “Yes!” If your teen is a middle schooler or 9th grader, it’s too soon for a campus visit. Those years are better spent doing well academically and making good choices socially. End of sophomore year is the earliest I would recommend a campus visit.
When are you starting your campus visits? Please post comments below.