In the past five years, my husband and I have taken our daughters on many college visits. We have found actually being on campus to be a valuable tool for our daughter’s in determining whether a college is right for them. But some visits have been more insightful than others.
Since going to see schools is an investment in both time and money, how can parents plan trips that will be both fun and productive for their teen?
1. See the Right Colleges
Meet with your teen’s guidance counselor before planning trips to determine which schools are most likely good choices for your teen based on their academic performance, outside interests and hobbies and what they are interested in studying.
2. Do Research in Advance
Get teens involved in the college trip planning process by doing some online research. Teens can learn many important facts about a college before leaving home and determine whether it is worth visiting. Try not to be overly swayed by opinion sites (college prowler, niche) but rather use concrete facts about a college to evaluate its potential.
3. Be Open-Minded
Make sure your teen is willing to keep an open mind. My own daughter was sure she only wanted to attend a school within driving distance. But several people that knew her well, including her guidance counselor, suggested she look at a school a short flight from our home. After some convincing she agreed to visit and wound up really liking the school.
4. Pick a Good Day
Check the college’s calendar – just because tours are going on does not mean school is in session. We have found that the best visits give an accurate account of what the campus looks like on a typical day. Seeing the students is a good clue for teens on whether or not they could see themselves there. In general, schools “show” better in nicer weather, but remember, if your teen chooses to attend they will be there for at least three seasons so there is nothing wrong with visiting during a chilly winter day.
5. Takes Notes on Visit
The information sessions and tours can start to blend with one another. Seeing too many schools at a time can be overwhelming and cause teens to shut down. Try to get your teen to take a few notes after each visit about what they did and did not like about each college they see. These notes can be great reference points for entrance essays when they are asked to explain why they are applying to the school.
6. Don’t Rush Your Visit
Do the tour and the information session, but also do more. On a recent college visit, my daughter made plans to meet a former classmate who is a current student. Spending the afternoon with her gave my daughter a much better sense for what it would feel like to actually attend school there. Sitting in on class, meeting a professor or participating in a school organized overnight are all great ways to determine if a school is a good fit.
7. Be Organized
Check the school’s website for visiting policies. Some schools do require advance registration for tours, info sessions, overnights, etc. Also check the admission requirements. If you are still applying and a school requires an on campus interview, you may want to schedule this along with the visit if the campus is far away.
8. Look and Listen
A lot can be learned about a school by just walking around campus. On most of our visits we try to eat where the students eat and congregate. Seeing students selling t-shirts for an upcoming event or a group studying on the lawn, for example, is in many ways more informative than the orchestrated visit activities.
9. Don’t Let One Person Turn You Off
Whether it is the tour guide or a person at admissions, don’t let one person’s attitude or experience turn you off to a school. On one of our college visits, our tour guide was awful and her comments really turned my daughter off to the school. But this was just one kid out of thousands and I urged my daughter not to let this one person define the school.
10. Have Fun
On college trips, try to do more than just see the colleges. Take in the some sights of the town you are visiting. For our family, we combined some college trips with family vacation time and used others as a chance for each parent to have some one on one bonding with our child. Use these college visits to connect with your teen and have some fun.