Right about now, as the parents of sophomores and juniors are scheduling flights, renting cars, making hotel reservations and booking spring break campus tours, this whole “college thing” becomes eerily real.
We recently spoke with two experienced parents who have done that recently, and have come out the other side smiling.
Here’s their advice.
“I would say that the best thing we did regarding campus visits was to start early. We looked closely at upcoming days off, vacation days, even teacher workdays. If you wait until summer, you may not get a “real” feel of the campus dynamics. We made a point of visiting most schools at two different times to get an idea of school spirit, study habits and student engagement. Weekend sessions are very different. I also learned that colleges offer specialized sessions (engineering, business, honors college, etc.) only on certain days of the week.”
One parent was aware that she was embarrassing her son on a few campus tours when she asked one too many questions. “For me, I need to know everything about the school, the retention rates, the school spirit, the laundry facilities, etc. I always asked the tour guides about other schools they applied to and why they chose this school over the rest. Some questions seemed appropriate in the large group setting and I left others until we were on the student-led tour. I also asked about traditions on campus, study abroad options and the quality of the career services center.”
Our advice - parents should ask questions when they must, but leave the bulk of the questions to their child. This mom’s best piece of advice is to ask your child to write down his thoughts and pros and cons about the college immediately after settling back in the car, because pretty soon one school can end up looking just like the rest. “I tried not to give my opinion before he did. I didn’t want to color his observations. I would ask the question and then wait until he was all finished to give my opinions.”
The mother of the second family, whose son ultimately applied early decision, started preparing in sophomore year because she felt it was important for her son to have a good working knowledge of each school prior to a visit. She made sure to ask the same questions on each visit. Her son always tried to make arrangements ahead of time to meet with an admissions counselor after the tour. This helped answer questions a student guide was unsure of, and gave the family a valuable point of contact.
You may also find that one visit simply isn’t enough. Families can later take advantage of Open Houses or Discovery Days offered by the schools, because they may provide even more information.
For one mother, the biggest take-away about campus visits was how a school organizes the visit, i.e., the time they may take to match your child with a tour guide who is currently majoring in your child’s area of interest, their willingness to coordinate what you may ask for beyond what is standard, etc. These special touches give you even greater insight into how student-focused each college really is.
Both families found the process eye-opening. They both advised families to en-joy the process because it can get over-whelming at times. Their parting thoughts were to “make sure to stay up on deadlines for testing, applications, essays, scholar-ships, etc., but then get the tissues ready, because the tears will come when you realize that your baby has grown up and is ready to fly on his own.”