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College Tourapalooza: 3 Tips for College Visits and 7 College Reviews

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. ~ James 1:5

Well, we survived! We visited 7 colleges on 5 different days. Throw in there a 2 day visit with family, senior pictures, a day at the beach, a day exploring Charleston and a day hiking and you have one very full 2800 mile, 12 day adventure.

After our Spring Break trip to Upstate South Carolina last year, our daughter decided she would like to explore college options in the Carolinas. We spent several months researching colleges and coming up with a travel plan to visit some colleges that offered the right major and scholarship opportunities. You can see more about how we prepared for this trip in my blog, How to Plan Multiple College Visits. We visited 7 colleges on 5 different days over an 8 day time span. I’m not going to lie, it was physically and mentally exhausting, especially for our daughter. The two days that we visited two colleges, we were emotionally spent by the end of the day.

Before I get into the specific colleges we visited and how it went I’d like to give you a few tips we learned along the way:

1. If at all possible, only visit 1 college per day. There is a lot to take in and process after 1 visit, adding in a second one muddies the waters and one college starts to run into the next.

2. Take a binder with questions and/or post visit comment sheets and fill them out ASAP after your visit. We had a list of questions and a post visit sheet but we didn’t fill them out completely after each visit and so when we sat down later to answer the questions, we had already started to forget answers and questioned which school had what programs, activities, etc.

3. Make sure your student is prepared to speak with an admissions counselor. Our daughter reviewed her academic resume and was prepared to discuss her activities and aspirations and also had questions prepared to ask at each school. If the school doesn’t have a time set up for your child to meet an admissions counselor, seek out an opportunity to speak with someone and ask questions. We liked when Makayla had the opportunity to have a face to face with an admission counselor. It seems like having that in-person connection will make it more likely that the counselor will be an advocate for her when it comes time to make admission/scholarship decisions.

I would like to preface our college tour reviews by saying that Makayla liked all of the schools that we visited. While there were clear “winners” if you will and she has ranked them, I’m not going to share that information because it could certainly change after a second visit and she said she would be happy attending any of the schools we visited.

Davidson College Location: Davidson, North Carolina Enrollment: 2000 Acceptance Rate: 20% Full Tuition Scholarship: John M. Belk & William Holt Terry Scholarship

Davidson was a great college on a very pretty campus. We started our visit with an overview session led by the Assistant Dean of Admissions. There were about 10 students and their families, all from different states. The admissions counselor gave a fairly comprehensive overview of life at Davidson and the admissions process along with tips to better your chances at getting accepted. Over 6000 students apply to Davidson every year and a little over 500 get accepted, with ¼ of those being athletes! After the admissions meeting, we were broken into 2 groups and given a tour by a current student. She did a great job of explaining things and had usually answered any questions we had by the time she was done talking.

Davidson seemed to tick most of the boxes of things we are looking for in a college. Some noteworthy things we liked: small class sizes taught by professors not TAs, a strong honor code and sense of community, opportunities for undergrad research and study abroad, and an abundance of clubs and activities to make sure students are engaged. They also have a Lake Campus which seems really cool and if Makayla gets accepted, we’ll definitely have to check it out on a follow-up visit.

The town of Davidson was also a selling point. The downtown area started just off campus with numerous restaurants and shops. We ate at a cute little place called The Soda Shop which I highly recommend. The main area of town is very walk-able and the school offers shuttles to take kids to Target, the airport, etc.

Catawba College Location: Salisbury, North Carolina Enrollment: 1325 Acceptance Rate: 42% Full Tuition Scholarship: McCorkle’s Scholarship of Academic Distinction & Spirit of Catawba Scholarship

Catawba is a small college located between Charlotte and High Point. It was a late addition to our tour because we just stumbled upon it when looking into colleges some more. It was a much smaller campus than Davidson but it offered a lot of the same things academically and we were really pretty impressed with everything it had to offer. We again started with a brief overview with an admissions counselor then took a tour with a student. Catawba was a personal, 1:1 visit which made it easier to ask more questions and ask to see specific things that we were interested in.

Catawba College also offered most of what we are looking for: Pre-med studies with strong academic advising and simulation mannequins, an honors program with honors specific dorms, study abroad opportunities, small class sizes and a strong sense of community. They also have a 189-acre ecological preserve right on campus which is a really unique feature. Students who aren’t utilizing the preserve for their major can still take advantage of the trails, wildlife and lush vegetation.

The town of Salisbury itself isn’t as accessible as Davidson was but all students can have a car on campus so they can drive up the road or catch a ride with a friend. We arrived a little early so we stopped in a grabbed some iced coffees at the Palms Café; the coffee was good and the Crepe menu looked phenomenal.

High Point University Location: High Point, North Carolina Enrollment: 5200 Acceptance Rate: 81% Full Tuition Scholarship: Presidential Founders Scholarship

High Point had the most impressive campus, by far. If Walt Disney built a college, it would look like High Point. We drove around the campus the night before our visit and we couldn’t believe we were on a college campus because it felt more like a resort. When we pulled up for our visit the next day, we had a reserved parking space with our daughter’s name and state on it so we were feeling pretty important.

We started out by watching a short video of High Point then were introduced to our tour guide (who also happened to be a pre-med major and an honors student, not sure if that was coincidence or by design?) It was a rainy morning so they gave us all ponchos and walked us out to the golf cart which also had a rain cover on it so we didn’t get a drop of rain on us all morning. The tour was very impressive; the buildings all seemed brand new with state of the art equipment and there certainly seemed to be an emphasis on a comfortable learning environment.

The tour concluded at the Admissions office where we met with the counselor who serves Illinois. She talked to our daughter about what she was looking for and we were able to ask questions and discuss scholarship opportunities. Makayla also left her resume and a copy of her transcripts with the counselor and left feeling pretty good about the visit. We liked the way they set up this visit with the tour first and meeting with admissions afterwards so we knew what questions we still needed answered.

High Point was another college that seemed to offer everything we were looking for: a uniquely designed honors program with dedicated dorms, small class sizes, a good pre-med program with advisors and success coaches (a new science building is set to open this fall), a cadaver lab, undergraduate research opportunities and medical mission trips.

The city of High Point, what we saw of it anyway, was not a big selling feature. We followed our GPS to the campus as opposed to following the signs and that area was a little more rundown which made me happy that the campus has a gated fence all the way around it with security guards that stop each car on the way in.

College of Charleston Location: Charleston, South Carolina Enrollment: 9895 Acceptance Rate: 80% Full Tuition Scholarship: Harry and Reba Huge Scholarship (for students accepted into Aiken Fellows Society)

The College of Charleston campus is beautiful; the architecture and oak trees with Spanish moss are breathtaking. The location of the campus is right smack dab in the middle of downtown Charleston and is pretty compact. It was a little hard to envision 10,000 students on the campus. For this visit, we all met as a group with an admissions counselor (there were about 10-12 students) to give us the rundown, then we were divided into 2 groups for the tour.

We picked the guide who was also an Honors student so we could hear more about the program. It sounds similar to High Point with more discussion based classes and dedicated dorms. College of Charleston offered most of the same things the other colleges did; small class sizes, study abroad, several small science labs and research opportunities.

Charleston is a beautiful city with an abundance of history, shopping and restaurants. The location of the campus, right downtown, does concern me a little bit coming from a very small town, but it didn’t seem to bother Makayla.

Wofford College Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina Enrollment: 1663 Acceptance Rate: 69% Full Tuition Scholarship: Wofford Scholars Program

Wofford was one of the first colleges we started looking at in the Carolinas because it was located close to Greenville and has the opportunity to be awarded a full ride scholarship through the Wofford Scholars program which Makayla has already been accepted into. We started our visit with the admissions counselor then went on our student led tour of campus. There was another family with us, which at first we weren’t thrilled about (from our first few tours we realized we liked the 1:1 visits), but they turned out to be a really nice family and Makayla had some things in common with both of the teen girls.

Wofford offered a lot of the same amenities as the other schools. They don’t have a simulation lab, cadaver lab or the type of honors program we were looking for but they do have study abroad opportunities, small class sizes, a nice-sized campus and are currently building a new freshman dorm.

The city of Spartanburg seemed a little run down right around the college but the downtown area had had a lot of growth and you can see that they are working on building Spartanburg up and providing more opportunities. We ate lunch at The Farmer’s Table and we all agreed we’d go back.

Gardner-Webb University Location: Boiling Springs, North Carolina Enrollment: 3800 Acceptance Rate: 53% Full Tuition Scholarship: Ignite Excellence Scholarships

Gardner-Webb is a private, Christian school and was the last college we added to our itinerary. Since we already had visits scheduled at the other schools, the times didn’t work out for us to schedule an official visit so we just drove up to look at the campus. While we were there, we popped into the admissions office to see if we could get some information about some of the school's programs. The admission counselor for Illinois happened to be free and met with us to talk about the school, scholarships, Makayla’s plans. Makayla also able to leave her academic resume with the counselor. After that meeting, a student gave us another rainy, golf cart tour of the campus.

We were actually shocked at what a great school Gardner-Webb seemed to be since it was a smaller, Christian school that we really didn’t know anything about. They offer a lot of programs and activities for the students and have a brand new student center with great dining options and activities such as a rock climbing wall and theater. They have an honors program with dedicated dorms, small class sizes, a good science program with simulation labs and mock medical clinics, study abroad including mission trips, and they are a Division 1 school with football. Makayla also qualifies to participate in the interview process to compete for their Ignite Excellence scholarships which offer 1 full ride and 4 full tuition scholarships.

We were very pleased with our visit to Gardner-Webb and it was well worth the drive up to check it out.

Anderson UniversityLocation: Anderson, South Carolina Enrollment: 2500 Acceptance Rate: 79% Full Tuition Scholarship: AU Fellows Presidential Scholarship

Anderson University was a beautiful campus with the most welcoming visit experience. There were about 8 families in attendance and we all started out with an overview session with "Aunt" Pam that shared with us the mission and heartbeat of Anderson. After the introductory session, we divided into small groups to tour the campus with students. The campus was very pretty and laid out in such a way that it was easy to get around. Boys State had descended upon the campus so we couldn’t see as much of the inside of the buildings as we would’ve liked. The dining hall was big and had a lot of different options and the student center was new. The big draw to Anderson is the science programs; they have simulation labs, a cadaver lab, a cancer research center, and opportunities as an undergraduate to research. They also offer summer learning opportunities, mission trips and AnMed Health Internships.

After the tour, we were able to meet one on one with an admissions counselor and the Director of Admissions to discuss questions and scholarship opportunities and were able to leave her resume to be passed on to her regional admissions counselor.

We really liked Anderson University and the town of Anderson as well. There was a really cute downtown area with shops and restaurants and right outside of town is Lake Hartwell. We ate lunch outside at Raines on Main. I don’t know where Makayla will end up going to college but Anderson certainly felt like a town I could settle down in. Can you say early retirement?

Ahhh, we are finally done with all of our college visits. Honestly, it was a pretty exhausting and stressful adventure. Makayla was very relieved when we were done, I think she was wound up pretty tight the entire trip because she had to spend so much time talking to admissions counselors about herself and asking questions but she did a great job!

It was definitely beneficial to visit so many schools in the area our daughter is interested in going to college. Some visits were more helpful than others and my biggest piece of advice would be to try to make a visit when school is actually in session. We, unfortunately, had to visit during the summer and we certainly missed out on some aspects of the colleges because there weren’t students in attendance to give us a feel for the campus when it is in full swing. There were also camps going on at a lot of the campuses so we weren’t able to get into some buildings and we didn’t get to see very many dorms. We’re hoping we will get the opportunity to get a better feel for the schools when we go back for scholarship interviews at some of the colleges.

I know it can be difficult to visit all of the colleges your child is interested in, especially if they are out of state, but I do think it’s important to try to visit the ones your child is most interested in. We’re told scheduling an official visit shows “demonstrated interest” in the school. If you need to travel out of state, try planning a family vacation around your college tours. At first, our youngest wasn’t thrilled about spending his vacation looking at colleges but we did plan some fun into the trip and he actually ended up liking the college tours more than he thought he would. In fact, I think he has one picked out.

All in all, we were all pretty happy with the experience and we all walked away with some clear favorites. Our daughter was also able to figure out a lot more about the scholarship interview process and what each school is looking for. She is doing more ACT Prep this summer with the goal of raising her score to be more competitive. With some hard work, we are hopeful she will be asked to interview at 2-3 colleges this fall and 2-3 more in the spring along with 1-2 schools that are in Illinois. Wherever she ends up, we are fairly confident she will get a good education at whichever college she chooses.

Parents, I’m going to be really honest with you, visiting all of these colleges was a very bittersweet experience. On one hand, it was very exciting to see what schools had to offer and envision our daughter thriving on campus. On the other hand, thinking about her finding her own way 12 hours from home was a little unnerving and weighs heavily on my mom heart. While this experience can be difficult at times, I encourage you to do your best to be a part of the process and to keep an open mind to what your child thinks is best.

I would love to hear from you if you have any experiences with the schools we visited. Leave me your feedback in the comments…

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