#23 College Visit Tips from the College Spy Transcript


Michelle McInerney  00:00

Best Practice, do one and do it all. However, it’s not always practical for families. And sometimes they’re in that exploratory stage where they’re just getting a sense of like we’re seeing a small school in Philadelphia, and then we’re seeing a bigger school in Philadelphia. So they’re just trying to get an idea of Philadelphia and size and use the information to adjust their college lists. So if they’re in that stage, they might hit two in a day. But if they’re trying to figure out is this the right school for my child apply early decision, let’s say you need to spend the whole day or more.


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:36

Michelle McInerney is the college spy. Each year, this independent educational consultant visits more than 40 colleges to gain firsthand knowledge on the wide variety of campuses that exist, so she can help students find their fit. And our conversation, she shares how she does a college visit while she’s spying on them, and gives your family tips and instructions for before, during and after your visit. If you follow her lead, you’ll be sure to gain valuable insights to help rule in or out campuses. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation. It is my pleasure to go ahead and invite the college spy Michelle McInerney onto the podcast today, and to gain insights on what she’s learned from spying on colleges. Michelle, welcome to the podcast.


Michelle McInerney  01:45

Thanks for having me, Lisa.


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:47

I am so intrigued. I love the name, the college spy and like it encompasses so many great things. And I am delighted that you’re going to share with us kind of your methodology for spying on these colleges. I know how many do you visit a year?



Well, before COVID, it was 40 and then down during COVID. And now I’m starting to ramp it up again. So I try to visit schools in lots of lots of areas of the country. So because my practice has always been on Zoom, and has always been virtual, so I need to know everybody’s local schools. So I have a lot on my list that I want to say,


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:24

Do you like fly into one area and then just hit everything in that area? Is that kind of how you do it?



Sometimes I do it that way. And other times, it’s because I live in two places. So I’m driving across the country quite a bit. And so I hit schools that way on purpose, take little detours off the main route.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:44

way to do it.



Yeah, it is a fun way to do it. It breaks up the drive for all the while so


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:48

you get to see all parts of the United States.



I do I do. And they are different, like the colleges are different, the parts of the US are not the same. So it helps me be able to explain to students, if you go to school in this area, what it might be like,


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:03

that’s fantastic. So tell me when you know you’re going to go to college, I know you’re actually you’re getting ready to do your cross country trip coming up next week. I do have some stops planned already.



I have not planned out specifically where I want to go yet. Although Kenyan is on my mind. I have a student who was accepted at Kenyon and I’m like, Oh, I got to see that one. How have I not seen that one yet? Where you are so and


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:29

as I said, Ohio, it’s a fantastic school and campus. So you’ve got that one, you’ll figure out the rest. So here you are, you’re planning you’re actually in action. Now. You’re planning this visit in your trip? What’s the first thing that you do? Yeah, let’s just start from scratch, particularly a family who they all know they should do this. But it can be overwhelming. So what would the first piece of advice be?



The first thing I do is go on the map. I want to see where is it? Is it on my road? And how am I going to get there? And is it feasible and things like that it might be a little different for families, because they are going specific places that they chose, and I want to go everywhere. You know what,


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:13

as you say that though, and like they have to be thinking about I remember my oldest went eight hours away. And so while we were planning, we weren’t doing what you’re doing, but we were thinking about all the same things like, okay, when we go to this university, this is how long it would take you to get home. These are the implications of the travel. This is the area so you can still kind of apply that same concept even as a parent, right?



Yeah. where the airport is in relation to the campus and is it a direct flight from where you are? Or are you the student going to have to change flights and get on Travelocity or expediency? Well, what does that look like? And you know, what are those flights? So the first thing really, I think parents need to do if they know What campus they want to go to, is going the admissions page and find out when the tours are, especially now when campuses are limiting how many students they can accommodate because of COVID, it can be difficult to get a tour and the date that you want to get a tour. For the most part, I don’t recommend students do self guided tours, if there is the option to do a wheel tour on campus with the info session and the campus. Why is that? Well, I just don’t think they’re gonna get as good of a feel of the university. If they’re just walking around on their own and not really knowing what they’re seeing. I think the the info session puts everything into context for you, and helps you figure out how is this campus different from another campus, I’ve done a lot of self guided tours, because you know, I’m driving along, and maybe I’ll be like, Oh, I got a guided tour of this school. But that school is 45 minutes, let me just spend the evening going around just seeing what it’s about. And certainly I have a much better idea of which of my students the college is a good fit for if I’ve taken the real tour and alarm on the info session, and spent the day. So I’m just based on my own experience, it’s just not as good to do it on your own. So of course, that during COVID, it’s better than nothing right is to try.


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:16

And I have experienced what you have, as far as they fill up quickly. Now. I mean, it use, they always have filled, you always need to plan ahead. But how many weeks in advance? Would you recommend?



Oh, gosh, it depends on the school. I mean, some of them you have a week in advance would be fine. Others I would say a month, two months, maybe if it’s a really popular school, and depending on how many they actually have. The other thing I’m noticing is lots of schools don’t have tours on Saturdays. So now you need to plan during the week to go short. And also the other thing is that parents want and students they want to go during their breaks. Well, lots of people want to go during their breaks. So if that’s your plan, you want to schedule it way in advance.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:02

And when you bring up break, we’re going to recording this in the spring. So we’re heading into summer, do colleges. I know some colleges have college visits over the summer, I’m assuming some don’t what’s your advice around summer visits,



I have mixed feelings around summer visits. So I might do. I mean I personally prefer to visit when the students are there, I think you can get a better sense of the culture on campus, when you see students moving around. However, it is very difficult for families to plan that during the school year. And a lot of times, summer is a good time to go. You can organize the trip and get out there and make arrangements for everybody else in your family, whatever needs to be done. So I would say best case scenario is to visit when students college students are on campus. Second best is to go in the summer. Sometimes I visited in the summer and the place is dead, there is nobody there, you can’t get a sense of what you have to imagine people walking around campus. And other times is much more lively, where there’s more things happening on campus. And students are there you can see orientation happening and different summer programs that might be going on on campus. So it’s easier to imagine what it’d be would be like, during the school year, so it just depends.


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:20

So plan ahead. And then when you get there try to do the official. So some of our listeners might not know that. If you sign up for an official visit, you’re going to do an information session. And then you’re also going to do a guided tour of the campus and a small usually in a small group. What else do you recommend that families do while they’re on campus?



Lots of things? Well, first of all, when you sign up, you might find other things besides the information session and the college tours. So there could be college specific information sessions or tour. So what I mean by college specific is within the university, there are different colleges, there might be the College of Business Information Session, the College of Engineering, etc. So participating in those can be really helpful for students who want more details about the programs on campus, sometimes you might find the opportunity to sit in on a class, which is a great idea for students to be able to audit a class for a few hours, or it might be less than few hours.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:25

Everybody away,



it could be an hour. But certainly if that option is available, I always encourage high school students to get a taste of what it would be like to sit in a college class in general, and then also a college class on that campus that they’re visiting. So it’s those tell students go visit a classroom and then imagine yourself there in the classroom studying there. Will you be comfortable in that environment, whether it’s a very large lecture hall or a small room where the seats are arranged in a circle is be a discussion class. So certainly to do that, for real by auditing a class is a great idea.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:00

I was going to ask you, you can ask for things that you don’t readily see available on the website, right? I don’t think that I’ve seen regularly this Oh, do you want to go ahead and attend a class on the Admissions website? But if you ask, generally speaking, I mean, do you find that that? Do they accommodate that? Ask if you do ask someone to ask,



you should ask your admissions counselor, every high school has an admissions representative from the colleges assigned to them. And that person is who you should ask. Sometimes you can call main number and and and sometimes a student picks up a secretary and say, This is what I’m trying to set up. And they might be able to direct you here or there. It is difficult to know who to ask the various questions on a college campus. And sometimes it takes several phone calls to be directed to the right spot. colleges will accommodate. Usually, if you call and ask can I speak to a department head? Or how can I arrange to do that? Or take a specialized tour in some way? Smaller the college, the easier it is to do that? Would you agree with that?


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:08

I would agree with that. Yeah, I mean, the smaller and even some of the small like really elite schools, they’re not going to because they have so many applicants even so I think it’s it’s probably about selectivity as well as sides. Do you feel like that?



Yeah, yeah, I do. I mean, I don’t think it’s easy to call Harvard and arrange. It’s interesting, though, I give this advice to families a lot, the families that I work with, and I tell them, Don’t stop just at the normal college tour and the info session, call up and see what else you can do. And sometimes there’s a little bit of resistance with that. And I think it’s it depends on where the student is in the stage of choosing a campus. So they’re, if they’re in the more exploratory stage, where they’re like, Well, I don’t know, if I want to sit in on a class here. I don’t even know if I’m gonna like that campus, I might step on campus and immediately say, it’s not for me. So it’s almost like they want to blend into the background a little bit and just sort of observe from afar, and not be like, I’m here to be your best applicant. I want to see everything, but later in the process, students are more likely to want to do that. That is a good idea. It’s helpful.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:18

What you just said early process, late process. What age do you and I know, there’s probably people that would answer this differently. But what age do you start to tell your students that you’re working with as a college spy and an independent college counselor? Where do you advise them? Like, what’s the right age? Is there a too early?



Can you ask me that I took my second grader nephew on college tour, we went to the Culinary Institute of Art because he likes cooking and baking. And he loved it. He was standing there in the dorm room looking around. And anyway. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:53

remember that forever, though? And what a cool Aunt, are you? Right?



Yes, it is very true. Wait, we hit McDonald’s, we brought the dog it was great. But I think it depends on the student. My general advice is 10th grade is a good time to go. But I can see situations where it makes sense to bring a ninth grader. And what I usually recommend for families who are touring early, so maybe 10th grade and earlier is to do something fun when you’re on campus. So maybe you’re on a vacation, and there’s a campus nearby, and you might set up something your child is interested in. So go see a sports game, if that’s their interest, go see a production if that’s their interest. So you’re as a parent, you’re introducing the campus to students, but to your student in a way that doesn’t have pressure. So you’re just there to check it out and have a good time, eat in the dining halls, see what it’s like to be a college student, but there’s no pressure to figure out, do I want to go to this school or not? And what will I want to study if I do go here? So it’s just an introduction. I think sometimes those experiences can be very motivating for some students who maybe need to step it up a little bit in high school and do a little bit better, because they might see well, if I attain these grades and get involved in these activities, I might be able to go to that campus that we visited.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:10

We would my oldest just finished eighth grade headed into ninth grade. My daughter who’s young was four years behind in school. She had a gymnastics meet, and we’re in Cincinnati. It was up in Milwaukee. Marquette. Have you been on that campus yet? No. It’s a great campus. It’s so close to like Michigan. It’s truly an urban campus. My daughter was competing downtown. We were staying downtown and so for my eighth grader, rising ninth grader, we just walked through campus very low key and it was a great way I started doing that early but very low key cuz he was not at all ready to talk about those things. Yeah, yeah, I



think some kids are. I used to be a school counselor. We’ve been meet with the students as much as we could periodically single year, ninth grade, it was interesting. So we’d have a curriculum that we would be using and some kids were ready for it to talk about college and career. And other kids were like, Why are you talking to me about this, I just got to this high school this year or last year if they’re in 10th grade. So I think it’s important to try to meet your student where they are. And then take them one little step further, not 10 steps further, but just introduce one other ideas so that it’s not something that they put up resistance to and don’t want to talk about.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:29

As we were talking about off camera before we started recording, I’m batch recording my podcast today. So doing four episodes, you’re my third guests that I’ve talked to today and everybody on really different topics. But you know what the one consistency is that all of us have done. And this is for me, I’m counting myself in here with my college major and career course, that I have, all of us have said, start by that second semester of 10th grade. And what’s so interesting to me is so many families just think of the junior year as being so important. But as I get to curate and have these fantastic conversations with all these experts on the podcast, consistently, that second semester, 10th grade just continues to come up. It’s so interesting to me, I have people



who hire me, and one in ninth grade, but usually it’s 10th, grade 11th. And some come we have a senior brush package, they could come fall of senior year. And I think they all have good outcomes, that kids who start in 10th grade have the least stressful experience going through the college admissions process. Were the ones coming to me in the summer, before grade 12 or later, are scrambling and uncomfortable. So highly recommend for just stress reasons starting earlier.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:53

What do you think about so for some families, they may not whether it’s time, money, distance, all of the above? There’s a lot to do on this college bound journey. What’s your advice to a family that can’t get on campus? How can they spy on the colleges without physically being there?



Actually, this is my advice for kids who can go because I think the more you know about a campus before you get there, what you learn about it when you’re there, just adds to that. So as opposed to starting fresh, and not knowing anything, there’s like the scaffolding. So what I recommend that people who can’t get to campus do, or people just before they go, is a lot of research. So one of the silver linings of COVID has been that the campuses have increased access to virtual tours, and made them a lot better and a lot more interesting. There’s a lot of virtual experiences. And I highly recommend that families engage in those. And I find that my families who do it together so that not that the student just watches by themselves, but they watch with a parent, then they can talk about it and interact about it, it’s better, because it’s easier when you’re standing there to get a sense of the school and harder on video. And you could talk about it afterwards and kind of debrief. This is what I noticed, this is what I saw and what would be good for you and what’s not a good fit for you. So definitely the virtual tours getting on the websites of the colleges, of course, but I know that students get lost on websites often. So I tried to direct them to certain places. So looking at the Student Life pages and the academic pages. So what are the majors that are there one of those possibilities and what’s happening on campus. And then using social media, I think is one that students are likely to do this one at my suggestion, not just following the colleges, but also following campus groups. So what I mean by that is, if you are interested in joining the club lacrosse team, follow the club lacrosse team on Instagram, Tik Tok, wherever they are, so that you can get an idea of not just what the college is putting out, but what the students are putting out that student generated content can be helpful. Really great


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:02

advice. My regular listeners get probably tired of hearing this, but I continue to preach it scheduling on the weekend usually or could be some other time but a regular weekly meeting to work on the college bound journey. So I teach that inside my launch Career Clarity course. I preach it on the podcast and in my weekly newsletters, carve out intentional time, you as a parent are getting ready to make a gigantic investment financially in your child and in their future. And so you have every right to say hey, this is what we’re going to do as a family. And so I love your suggestion of don’t just say to your team, go to the Kenyon College website and pull up the video and do the virtual tour yourself or do the information session yourself but do it as a family. That would be every podcast episode at the end I give them I’ma one thing to do that I suggest doing that very next weekend as part of their weekly college planning meeting. And so I jotted it down where we’re talking, I already know what it’s going to be, do a virtual college tour together,



not always very long. So you can find things on YouTube to watch, spend 10 minutes learning about a campus, it doesn’t have to be something that’s 45 minutes long. So it’s a great idea, just carve out that one time, especially for families where they’re always talking about college. And so the student starts to not ever want to talk about college.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:32

Amen. And that is my point. Because I think as parents, I’ve worn the mom hat through this process. And I’ve professionally worn it for decades. And it’s like, we could talk about it all the time. And it’s not stressful to us, parents love their children, they want the best for their kids or just trying to be helpful. And it’s not only annoying to their kids who are very busy doing many things, but it also can start to overwhelm them. So from the families that I work with, inside launch Career Clarity, who adopt that methodology of we’re going to do it on the weekends, and I as a parent, I’m going to try to zip it during the week, I get the feedback. Like that was such fantastic advice. Now my kid is more engaged when I’m trying to do it and less overwhelmed. And we as adults, we can zip it for a few days, and then bring it up, write it down somewhere, have a plan for what it’s going to be that next week. But yeah, kids cannot handle that, especially even now. I mean, COVID just made things so much more overwhelming. Absolutely. You talked about how so it was funny when earlier we were talking about like, okay, so if you go on campus, try to you’re going to do informational seminar, do that to her. See if you can sit on on a class, then fourth one, try to do the what I call college close up. So that business school or the health sciences, or whatever it might be, that’s a long day. And then on the other hand, we’ve got 10 minute YouTube videos that we can watch. So how much time? I mean, do you tell your families just do one campus a day and do it all? What do you think about trying to fit two campuses in on a day, best practice,



do one and do it all. However, it’s not always practical for families. And sometimes they’re in that exploratory stage where they’re just getting a sense of like, we’re seeing a small school in Philadelphia, and then we’re seeing a bigger school in Philadelphia. So they’re just trying to get an idea of Philadelphia, and size, and use the information to adjust their college lists. So if they’re in that stage, they might hit two in a day. But if they’re trying to figure out is this the right school, for my child apply early decision, let’s say you spend the whole day or more on campus. And there’s a lot more that you can do on your own. After the tour, they’ll introduce you to something outside of a building and don’t take you in. So you need to find a way to get into that building and look around and see things. And I also encourage families to do a lot of people watching so eat on campus. So if you don’t know, you don’t need a swipe card to get into the dining hall. You can just go up and pay cash, it’s probably around $10. And try the food and sit down and look at the people there and look for I tell the kids look for your lunch table. Who if you were standing there, were you with your tray. And it was time to sit down? Do you see people you want to sit with and you feel comfortable with? And we’re doing a little stereotyping that way. But I think it’s important to do is to kind of look around and be like, is this the right spot for me and what I feel comfortable on this campus. So I encourage students to eat on campus and visit things they’re interested in. So if you’re a kid works out all the time. And the tour doesn’t take you to the Rec Center, you need to go there. There’s a lot of things some families can be really friendly and meet lots of different people on campus and ask a lot of non employees of the admissions office so not the tour guide questions and talk with them about what the school is really like and other families a little bit shyer. But if you can do that it’s so valuable for your child.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:16

And kids who are on that campus. What I’ve found is they want to talk about their campus like the ones that are already attending. They’re excited to and I always ask them, Where else did you apply and why did you choose the school over those and I think that can sometimes expand your college list and give ideas but great insights to



it is what I used to do a lot is bring my dog to campus. And after the tour and the info session, I’ll walk the dog around campus because I told you a lot of times I’m driving to campuses, kids want to pet my dog. They really do they miss their pets at home. They want to tell you about their pets, and they want to pet the dog and when While they’re doing that, I asked them about school. So she’s a great icebreaker. So that’s a possibility for your family, I highly recommend it. It really, really works of there’s another thing I want to tell your listeners. So you’ve mentioned questions to ask the different people that you meet on campus, I have things to whisper to the tour guides, people don’t know I put that in kind of air quotes. So I knew what they are. Because this is what I tend to whisper to the tour guide. And I do it either while the tour guide turns around, and we’re walking from place to place, or lingering afterwards to talk to the tour guide, which I recommend families do. A lot of times the tour guys will take off all the training and all of the scripted stuff and the things they even if it’s not scripted from university, just the things they always say. And they’ll really tell you the real deal. So here are the whispers. What surprised you about this campus? When you got here? What would you change about it? Does the campus lean left or right politically? And how much effort does it actually take to get to know professors? So usually, between those questions, they start talking and opening up because they don’t get questions like that a lot. So it’s they don’t have a scripted answer for it. So those are good.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:12

I love that. So everybody jot those down. Well, Michelle, thanks for giving us time insights, resourcing people on how to best buy on these colleges. And so for our listeners, if they want to follow you and look at the work that you do, consider working with you, what’s the best way for them to find you?



My website is the college spine.com. I give a lot of tips on Twitter. So and it’s at the college spy. I’m also all over Facebook with different Facebook groups, and work with students with learning disabilities, not exclusively, but I do so I have done that. And then one for students interested in engineering. So you can find those groups through my Facebook page, which is at the college spy on Facebook, and I’m on Instagram at the college by I’m everywhere. Well, we’ll get


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:07

all of that in our show notes as well, in case somebody needs to come back to that. And again, thank you, Michelle,



thank you for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:18

It’s hard for me to imagine how Michelle has time to visit 40 campuses each year along with running her college spy consulting firm. Those who are working with her are certainly fortunate. While this episode is dropping in the summer, it may not be the ideal time to get on campus and truly experience it in its glory. But virtual tours are open 24/7 365 days per year. You can virtually visit on a school’s website or even on YouTube. So what is your weekly challenge this week? I’m sure you can guess do a virtual visit by the end of this very next weekend. And be sure to do it with all of the pre and post worksteps Michelle recommends. That way you won’t forget what you learn. Remember, there are four components to building a college list that fits academic fit, financial fit, college major and career fit, and social fit. Any type of visit will likely provide information in all four areas. If today’s episode was helpful to you please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed and confused to motivated clear and confident about your team’s future.