Trips to visit colleges with your high school student can be exciting but also filled with anxiety centered on a major goal: getting to know schools well enough to make a big decision. Here are some tips for keeping focused on the job at hand.

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Begin with Research

Make sure your student has explored each school’s website. Visitors’ pages list times when prospective students and their families are welcome for an official visit and campus tour. Many websites offer virtual campus tours, and your student can check Facebook, YouTube and campus blogs for discussions or videos created by students.

Don’t Go Off-Season

To get a true sense of what it’s like to attend a school, be sure to visit when it’s operating in full swing. So avoid the summer and holidays, and make sure you’re not on campus during exams, when students are stressed out.

Plan Everything

Sometimes serendipity suffices when exploring a new place, but on college trips it’s best to have a concrete plan. So before you even choose dates, check events you might want to attend, such as open houses or study-abroad fairs. See if your student can sit in on a class. If he or she has interests in a specific activity, such as a marching band, try to be around for a home game. And don’t forget about weather. If you’re looking at schools where, say, winters are extreme, it might be a good idea to go when your student can experience what it’s like getting to classes with three feet of snow on the ground.