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Countdown to College


Try practice campus visits close to home

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

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Common wisdom dictates that when you are approaching a big project, the best way to deal with it is to break it down into smaller bite-size pieces. When tackling the campus visit component of the college admissions process, I advise families to “start local.”

Campus visits are expensive and time-consuming. Before investing in a college trip to Colorado for the family because your son wants to snowboard, make sure it’s worthwhile for everyone by visiting a similar-sized college closer to home.

Here in Charlotte I recommend two vastly different visits.

Davidson College, in Davidson, is the quintessential small, private liberal arts college. The town of Davidson is quaint, and your child will be able to get a strong sense of what it might be like to attend a smaller, more intimate college; in many cases smaller than their high school.

Davidson does a wonderful job in their information sessions with an admissions office representative and on the campus tour with their student ambassadors.

If your child is contemplating small colleges in New England or elsewhere, visiting Davidson will not only give them the real feel of a small school but will also provide a variety of good data points to compare it to a larger college or university.

The other trial visit I suggest is the University of South Carolina in Columbia. For most Charlotte-area families it is less than two hours away, certainly closer than visiting UNC Chapel Hill.

Visiting the state’s flagship institution will show your child what it’s like to be on a big college campus with big sports, big Greek life, lots of course offerings, a multitude of majors and most importantly, lots of people. Students are likely to notice a difference in the diversity of the student body from a small private school to a large public institution.

Being in the state capital offers a variety of benefits for most students, such as cultural, restaurant, housing and shopping opportunities, as well as internship possibilities. But most people would not describe Columbia as a “college town” as they might Chapel Hill or Athens, Ga. Drive around Columbia and see if your student would feel comfortable in this environment.

The nice part about these “trial visits” is that they should be as stress-free as possible. You’re really going to check out the differences between private vs. public, small vs. large, small town vs. large city, etc. Go local first, and then branch out based on reactions to each campus.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;
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