A Guide to College Open Houses, Homeschool-Style

JMJ 45 *University open houses and guided school tours are an opportunity not only for the students to catch a glimpse of what life at that university might be like, but also for the school to put its best foot forward to lure more applications and money to their institution.

Ring the School Bell 45/180 days

One of my favorite memories of this year, I am sure, will be the university open houses which I have attended along with Sabrina, and sometimes the whole family. (the intention of the schools, I am certain, is to eventually register all of the siblings!)

How can a child truly know which college to pick?  After setting some parameters as to how many universities you are willing to help them apply for, and maybe, as in our case, some geographic limitations, there is one thing you can do to help your child “know” which university is right for them.  Go visit one, or better yet, all of them!  What better way to get a feel for which college to choose.  And a warning, it may not be the same one that “speaks” to you!  A brochure or website just doesn’t do the same job.

Guide to visiting open houses:

  1. Go early, possibly start looking into it during your child’s sophomore year, as many open houses are geared to juniors, although seniors are welcome also. If you are looking to send your child to an out-of-state university, many schools can accommodate you in the summertime. Nobody gave us any advice on college open houses, (actually I didn’t even know that they existed) and so we crammed it all into Sabrina’s senior year, kind of stressful.  So she was visiting schools at the same time as she needed to start applying to them.  Not the best situation. We will know better for the others, cause we get to do this over again, twice!
  2. Brainstorm all prospective institutions together.  Sit down with your child and a cup of joe, and share some fun, and perhaps laughter, while looking at brochures.  You know, the gazillion brochures that start arriving in the mail once the SATs have been taken.  We had a boxful.  If you are a teenager reading this, fix your overworked parent a nice cup of coffee or tea, and encourage them to take a break while you hang out and discuss possible options.
  3. Narrow down the list.  It is expensive and very time-intensive to apply to each school, write those entrance essays, and do the auditions (she was applying to music schools).  Sabrina narrowed it down to 7 schools.
  4. Look at your financials.  Be honest with your child, but also mention possible scholarships and financial aid.
  5. Do some internet research- Find out when the open houses take place, register for them, and mark them on your calendar. Some schools also offer tours, or  appointments with school advisers.  We found that some schools have designated personnel to work with homeschoolers.  Ask about this.
  6. Open houses will definitely give direction and conviction to your child about where they would like to attend, but don’t just apply to one school, as their choice may change, and also, college admissions is a selective process and they may not get admitted to the school of their choice.

Any other advice I can add to the list?

Open houses are an opportunity not only for the students to catch a glimpse of what life at that university might be like, but also for the school to put its best foot forward to lure more applications and money to their institution.  Thus, the cheerleaders and hospitality ambassadors warmly greet you upon entrance to their grounds.  There are enthusiastic tours given on beautiful campuses. The entertaining and inspiring professors coach the prospective applicants, and the free food is scrumptious!  If it’s not scrumptious or gives you a belly ache, your child may have second thoughts about attending there!

And so today, along with Scott, Mary, Katie, and Megan our family friends, we spent the day at Mt. St Mary’s College, a picturesque campus situated at the top of a hill in Brentwood, California.  The mountain and ocean views were breathtaking from all sides when we arrived at the top.

Mount St. Mary’s Open House, Brentwood CA

My first impression was excellent. The staff and administration appeared to be wholly dedicated to their students and their attention to campus detail was remarkable.  Being a former classroom teacher, I immediately noticed the exquisitely decorated bulletin boards in the long hallways, sponsored by different campus associations.  The school’s goodwill ambassadors were extremely friendly, and the clubs/volunteer organizations were plentiful on campus. Finally, the freshly-baked cookies from their kitchen were awesome, although a patrol was put out to limit everyone to “one dessert only”!  Darn.

I suddenly shed a few tears with the realization that we probably could not afford to send Sabrina here.  We were never at a place in our financials where we could ever think about starting a college fund for our kids.  We still have a mortgage every month, and no retirement savings.  After the admissions and financial aid workshop, however, I learned that between the merit scholarships and aid, it looked like it might be a possibility.  My tears disappeared as my excitement grew.

I met up with Sabrina, eager to inform her that the campus may well be a possibility, but to my surprise she could not picture herself at this school.  Wasted tears on my part!  I have to remind myself at each open house, that while I have an influence, it is not “my” choice of college.  The music school was minuscule in size, with only a handful of students.  She indicated that she may look into their other programs.  Another important consideration, is she would like to be at a co-ed campus, after a lifetime of living with all girls as siblings and being in a homeschool group overwhelmingly full of lovely ladies!  Mount St. Mary’s is an all-girl school.

Fast-forward to the future, Sabrina ended up being a tour guide at the university which she eventually chose.  Stay tuned to find out just which university that was!  Click on the article below for useful questions to ask the tour guide while you are visiting a campus.


Good luck to you and your child!  This is an adventure for you, as well as your child, as this is a gateway to another phase of your lives.

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** Note to the Reader- Today’s narrative is an excerpt of our family’s school journey from a few years ago, during my eldest daughter’s senior year in high school, a rather emotional year, with its many ups and downs.

May God shower blessings on your family as he has on mine.    Annette





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