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'The Scoop': What parents and students need to know before going on a college tour

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Getty Images / Special to The Forum2 / 5
On this week's episode of "The Scoop with Tracy Briggs," Tracy catches up with officials from four local higher education institutions to get some advice on getting the most out of a college tour. Brent Kiehl / The Forum3 / 5
Summer is a busy time for high school juniors to start touring colleges. Getty Images / Special to The Forum4 / 5
While academics are the chief reason to select a college, admissions experts advise looking at other things such as residence halls, dining centers, athletics and activities. Getty Images / Special to The Forum5 / 5

MOORHEAD — As parents, we grow up right alongside our children. We learn how to feed and diaper them in the early days, and as they grow, we take them in to get vaccinated and we figure out how we're going to afford those braces.

As they approach the end of high school, we help them chart the next steps on their journey — will they go to college, and if so, where?

As K-12 schools start winding down for the year, more high school juniors and maybe even some seniors will be touring colleges and universities. What should they know? What mistakes are they making? And what advice do the experts have?

For this week's episode, "The Scoop with Tracy Briggs" gathered a group of admissions officials from four Fargo-area post-secondary schools to get their advice on what parents and students should know.

Our panel includes Tom Reburn with Minnesota State University Moorhead, Cory Schlack with North Dakota State University, Logan Schmidt with Minnesota State Community and Technical College and Mike Vandenberg from Concordia College.

Is this a popular time?

Cory Schlack: I think now is the time to get out and tour different colleges. We were really busy a couple of weeks ago, but it's slowing down a bit right now as students are focusing on getting done with the school year. We'll really start to ramp up as the summer starts.

How many tours should I do?

Tom Reburn: Great question. There's definitely a threshold of overwhelming yourself. If you do too many, you become numb to what really matters. ... Going to four or five schools overall is A-OK. Eventually, you'll narrow it down, then go back to that campus as many times as you're comfortable. It could be talking to that key faculty member or checking out the dining hall, whatever is important to you. It could be two times or even four.

What should students look for?

Logan Schmidt: Literally anything and everything is going to come into play when they're deciding on a college. For us, it really comes down to major. Do we have that program they want, that area they see themselves going into? All of these colleges have great things that work for them, so explore that. But it also might be athletics, intramurals, the dining hall or residence halls. All of those things make a difference.

What is the process?

Mike Vandenberg: Most people start on the website. They'll decide what they're looking for — more of a visit day where multiple students will be there, or do I want to come on my own individual visit with just myself and my family? Some people like to be in the back row and just listen. ... Others want to sit down one on one and get all of their questions answered. Maybe you want to visit with a faculty member. Maybe you want to bring your violin and sit in with the orchestra, or maybe I want to meet the basketball coach because that's something I'm interested in. If you're looking at a place where you're going to live for four years, there are going to be a lot of things that you're doing there besides coming to see the admissions office.

What are the biggest mistakes on a tour?

Schlack: If you're going on a campus tour, you can't really make a mistake. Just getting there for a tour is a step in the right direction. I'd say if there is anything, it's that some students are too timid. It's understandable to be a little nervous, of course, but this is probably the biggest decision of their lives so far. You don't want to be so timid that you don't ask any questions at all.

Reburn: Yes, just come in and ask questions. Don't be defensive, like there is some kind of negotiation. Be honest with what you want, and we'll be honest with you, too. We want to help you find that right fit. We want you to tell your story, uniquely.

Any other advice?

Schlack: I think the best piece of advice I could give is to keep a notebook on you. It could be a physical notebook or one on your phone because you will have questions about college, but you won't always remember those questions while you're on the tour. So anytime you think of a question, write it down so you're ready to ask.

Reburn: Do it! Come on the visit! Juniors and seniors in high school are the busiest they've been in their life. Their time is packed. They're trying to juggle a lot of schedules. Find time to do this. I know all of us offer a Saturday visit or we're flexible during the week. We have stuff during the summer. See the campuses.

Schmidt: I think a lot of times, especially right after high school, we see a lot of students who decide to go to a college because that's where their friends are going. But take a look at what you're really interested in. Look at what is the school that is a right fit for you and not necessarily your friends. So taking an individual approach instead of that group mentality.

Vandenberg: I think the piece that is most exciting for me is when a student shows up and he or she has even done 10 minutes of homework or prep work. They've looked at the website. They've seen what we've said and they maybe have questions about that. Maybe it's skepticism or maybe excitement. "I noticed this major on your website and I'm interested in that," or "I'm not sure about this, but talk to me about it." Like I said, just 10 minutes. It's like "OK, I'm bringing my A-game." You've shown up, you're ready. It's very impressive but it's also very beneficial for the student.

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