By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies, Founder


When you’re looking at the college admissions timeline, February is all about planning. There are four key items that need to be addressed in February. This week we’ll talk about two of them: Campus Visits and Course Selection. Next week, we’ll tackle testing and summer plans.

  1. Campus Visits – February is when families need to get serious about which colleges they plan on visiting over spring break; surprisingly some college tours fill up and families are often unwittingly left without campus visit options. So take a look at the current college list, cluster the colleges by geography and then determine which are the colleges that are critical to visit in the short term. Now is the time to figure out if you want to head north, south, east or west and how you will travel in between college destinations. Once you’ve made your decisions, go on each of the college websites and plan your visits, there is typically a “visit our college” tab under Admissions.


I strongly suggest you do a maximum of two college campuses per day. Otherwise you’ll feel rushed and your visits won’t be as meaningful. See if you can do more than the basic; Information Session and Campus Tour. If your student can sit in on a class, you get bonus points or even just grab a cup of coffee with a current student from your hometown.

If your student is a junior and you haven’t had the opportunity to visit many, or perhaps any, colleges, spring break is unquestionably your best bet. Don’t forget that this summer they will hopefully be finalizing their college list and working on their college applications and essays. Visiting colleges over the summer isn’t bad, but it can often be challenging for high school students and parents to really imagine what the college would look like when it is full of students moving to classes, or what the spirit of the campus is like on a pre-game day. That said, if summer is the only realistic option, it is far better to visit then, than to not visit at all.

  1. Course Selection – Now is also the time for families with rising 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders to be evaluating course selections for next year. Students looking at the most selective colleges and universities need to understand the number of courses needed at each of the colleges on their list.

There are important distinctions between what is “recommended” and what is “required.” As an example: the University of South Carolina – Columbia (USC) requires the following units: English – 4; Math – 4; Social Studies/History – 3; Foreign Language – 2; Visual/performing arts – 1 and Science – 3. It is important to note that USC requires three lab sciences – and Earth and Environmental or Earth Science is not considered a lab. This means that students need to take Biology and Chemistry and also take either Physics or a higher level science where Biology/Chemistry or Physics is a prerequisite.  The requirements for art and the three lab sciences are a bit unusual. Since this information is published on their website and in college guidebooks students who haven’t had an art class or the three lab sciences and intend on applying to USC, will need to plan their courses accordingly in order to keep it as an option.

Duke University recommends: English – 4; Math – 4; Science 4; Social Studies 4; Foreign Language 4. The biggest difference here is in the years of Foreign Language courses recommended.

Basic advice for students looking at the most selective colleges is to take all five core subjects: English, math, science, social studies and foreign language each year.



Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com