Recently I visited a couple of colleges and found some tips and trends worth sharing.

I tagged along with my nephew, a high school junior, and my sister and brother-in-law on their recent college visits over the February winter break. A refresher on this part of the admissions process seemed to be in order.

college campusThey picked two colleges within a half hour of each other, which made it possible for us to see both in the same day. The schools were different: one was a large, affordably priced, public university on a sprawling campus; the other a medium-sized, pricey, private college in a tighter footprint right in the town.

We all had expectations, and, as happens with campus visits, they were altered. Of course, my nephew’s impressions were the ones that ultimately mattered. The fact is, Mom and Dad won’t be the ones attending college.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about what to expect on a college visit. I’m happy to say all the information is still relevant. Surprisingly, not much has changed about information sessions and campus tours. But here are my observations as an experienced parent.

Dress for the weather One mom wore beautiful black leather riding boots, but since we’ve had a horrible winter here on the East Coast, she often found herself with two choices, walk on top of a pile of snow or navigate through a puddle. A pair of hiking shoes would’ve served her better.

Dorm rooms look more like home For the first time I saw college dorm rooms with flat walls instead of cinder blocks, which made the rooms feel warmer. At one school we saw a real student’s room and at the other, one decorated by Bed, Bath & Beyond. You’ll see one of these two options on your visit.

At the private school, the guide mentioned the availability of single rooms. She did say they were more suited for upperclassmen, but I see this becoming a trend with a generation of kids who’ve grown up never having shared a bedroom or even a bathroom at home.

OSU gymFitness centers are a big deal Colleges are pouring money into their gyms. During both tours we took a walk through their recently renovated fitness centers filled with state-of-the-art cardio equipment; a selection of yoga, Zumba and Pilates classes; large gymnasiums for pick-up indoor basketball and soccer games; and a well-equipped weight room.

Meal plans are no longer “all you can eat” Colleges seem to be moving more to a points or block system for on-campus eating, meaning you pay for what you eat. You place an allotment of money on the meal card each semester and each food item is debited against that amount. With snack bars, food courts and coffee kiosks all over campus, this is a practical way to set up a meal plan. All guides suggested going with one of the smaller plans, since more money can be added later.

Learning communities are standard Expect to hear about them at every college you visit. Though touted as a way for students to share a similar interest, in my view, learning communities offer an easier way for freshman to assimilate and make friends, improving their college experience from the start.

Nothing is free The guides like to say that use of the fitness center is free; printing up to 1,000 pages a semester is free; tickets to on-campus events are free; use of the tutoring and writing centers is free; etc. The more accurate way to say it is that these services and amenities are included in the price of tuition.

Make the most of what a college has to offer So nothing is free, but as my brother-in-law commented, students should take advantage of everything available to them during their college years because they won’t be able to live like this when they get out. He was referring to things like the “free” gym membership, swipe as you go food choices, use of studio space, study abroad, and a lot of other opportunities you can’t afford once you enter the real world.

To learn more about college visits, check out my previous posts on this topic here.

Please share any new trends you’ve noticed as you’ve visited colleges in the comments section below. 

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