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Spring break a great time to schedule college visits

January is the time of year when families make plans for a sunny spring vacation. Instead of a week at the beach or a visit to Disneyworld, high school juniors should consider that week in March or April the perfect opportunity to visit a few colleges. The campus visit is perhaps the most vital part of the college search. This is where you want to spend four years of your life and possibly quite a bit of your parents' money; you owe it to yourself to see the place up close and personal!

There's no question that the best time to visit a campus is when class is in session, and springtime is perfect for that. Spring visits allow families to tour campuses with a relaxed attitude. There are no looming deadlines and you can gather important information about the application process in plenty of time to schedule any standardized tests or even squeeze in a missing course. Since many Florida schools start their admissions cycles during the summer, spring might be your last chance to see the campus before making the choice of whether or not to apply.

A few Do's and Don'ts for planning your college tour.

DO visit a variety of schools, even if you think you know exactly what you want. Go to at least one urban, one rural, one large (more than 5,000 students) and one small. You never know what you really like until you actually set foot on the campus. In Florida, this is easy to do! Colleges in our state are clustered around the larger cities, so a trip to Tampa, Orlando, Miami or Jacksonville can yield several colleges large and small for you to visit.

DO attend the information session and take the tour. Settling for a "drive thru" just won't give you a real feel for the place. Ask questions, get a copy of the student newspaper, see what's going on in the coming week on campus. Is this a place you can picture yourself?

DO let the admissions office know you're there. Even if you don't make a formal appointment, it's still important to demonstrate your interest in the school. This can mean extra points for you down the road when you apply.

DON'T monopolize the tour. Try not to be the only one asking questions, and let your STUDENT be the one doing the asking!

DON'T let a lackluster tour guide ruin your opinion of the school. Walk around after the tour. Visit the student center or the dining hall and get your own sense of the campus.

And finally, DO keep and open mind! You'd be surprised  at how your preconceived notion of a place can change when you see it up close and personal.

For more information on planning your campus visits, take a look at www.collegeboard.com or www.educationplanner.org.

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