Visiting a campus in person is the ideal approach to making a decision about where to go to college. As a parent, being informed about the process can help you guide your child towards making the most of their college years and preparing for their future.

Before you book a flight or gas up the car, study these tips for how to plan and conduct productive campus visits.

Planning a Campus Visit

1. Start early. Spring break of senior year is the busy season for campus visits, but you can lower the stress by giving yourselves more time. Encourage your child to see a few different types of schools while they’re still a junior. It may also help them whittle down their final list.

2. Search online. Gather as much information as you can in advance. Visit campus websites and take advantage of free resources from reputable organizations like The College Board.

3. Decide who goes. Colleges are used to teens visiting with two parents, one parent, friends, older siblings, or arriving solo. It’s usually a good idea for a parent to be present for at least the first trip. That way, you can provide support and show your child how to cover each item on their checklist.

4. Make reservations. Some tours have popular extra features that fill up quickly. Call ahead to ensure your child has the chance to sit in on a class or attend a panel discussion.

5. Write out questions. Help your child to identify their most important criteria and form questions that will elicit the information they need. Bringing along a written list will also make it easier to remember what you wanted to discuss with the admissions counselor or the student leading the tour.

6. Rehearse interviewing. Maybe your child is nervous because they have a personal interview scheduled. Assure them that it’s one small part of the admissions process that gives both the school and the student a chance to learn more about each other. It’s also a great opportunity to practice advocating for themselves, so stage a trial run at home.

Conducting a Campus Visit

1. Take a back seat. Give your child room to take charge of their own education. While your feedback is valuable, they need to make the decision about where they’ll be spending the next four years.

2. Address your concerns. On the other hand, you can ask questions your child will probably skip over. University staff can explain safety policies and health care facilities.

3. Break away from the group. Organized tours are helpful, but take the opportunity to talk with some additional students privately. They can tell you what they like about the school and what they would want to change.

4. Check out the neighborhood. While the location is secondary, it will have some impact on a student’s quality of life. Drop into a local coffee shop or supermarket.

5. Take notes and photos. Your impressions may blur together after a while. Keep a journal and snap a few pictures so you can refresh your memory when you’re back home and ready to discuss your travels.

6. Look around. Pay attention to details that suggest what a college is really like. Are there lots of interesting events posted on the bulletin boards? Do the students, faculty, and staff seem friendly and helpful?

Campus visits are a big investment of your time and money, but it’s the most effective way to help your child select a school they’ll love. Your efforts will pay off when your sons and daughters find a college where they fit in and receive the kind of education they’ve been searching for.