The college tour is a rite of passage. Some teens take multiple trips to check out colleges including teacher-led class tours to a series of schools or an overnight with a friend to visit older pals already at college. The most likely scenario, however, is one or more parent-child trips. The fact is while many parents worry about their child’s wellbeing, about an empty-nest, their own finances or taking the time off work to make the trip, most teens are nervous about the prospective interviews and stressed about making a decision. After all, by the time they head for college tours, they’ve heard it for a lifetime: College is going to determine your career, your life, even who you may marry. The scenario is a touch-and-go situation before you even get in the car for the airport or the trip. So, it makes sense for the adults in the room to consider some techniques that make the best of a campus tour trip. These ideas may work.
- Plan to visit when school is in session.
An organized tour on an empty campus is hardly worth the effort. You both want to see the student body in action, if not always in class; and, at some point before or after a scheduled “group” tour, the prospective student wants to lunch in the cafeteria, go to the library, book store, field house and get a chance to visit a dorm. It’s best if teens go alone after the organized tour, so they can speak to students, even if just to ask directions.
- Add some casual — hopefully, destressing, sightseeing or shopping stops before the visit.
When my dad drove me to upstate New York to see a school, we went 24 hours early and he planned a stop at the Corning Glass Museum and arranged dinner with friends of the family who had moved upstate. I don’t recall the tour or an interview on campus, but I do remember sharing rare one-on-one time with my dad.
- When the teens’ vibe says no, accept it. No means no!
At one school where my friend’s twins were accepted, students were walking around campus wearing baggy jeans, oversized, paint-stained sweatshirts and bulky boots. They were kids who liked fashion, and, though they may not have mentioned that to their dad, they announced: This school is not for us! My granddaughter had a similar reaction when we arrived early for her interview and drove around the college town. She was so not impressed, she decided to skip the interview. We canceled the appointment; I even drove on to a much more appealing college town for lunch.
- Pictures, brochures, programs, even reputation don’t compare to gut instinct.
Try to arrange to get to a class in his/her department, especially if the student has already been “admitted.” As adults, it’s hard for us to comprehend what impresses or turns off our kids; why they want this and not that; and who or what they don’t like. ‘Tis a puzzlement. Still, their instincts matter and more often than not, they’ll lead to good decisions.
- Spend time in the most local, walkable places with or without your child.
Your child will spend spare time in the coffee shop or pizza parlor, drug store and grocery mart. Be sure the community appeals to him or her and is safe enough to assuage your worries.
- Make it a bonding experience.
Some kids are open to looking and exploring before making decisions; others still want their parents by their side. Do whatever it takes to make him or her feel comfortable.
- Avoid the argument.
They’re anxious; you’re stressed. When you’ve run out of non-opinionated and non-judgmental conversation, don’t tempt fate. Pull out your headphones and suggest that he or she do the same. An hour of individual music or podcasts or e-books on different headsets can make a positive difference.
- Arrange to experience the program or activity your child likes.
If it’s music or theater, football or a science fair, get the semester’s schedule and visit when you can attend a concert or performance, game or race or debate. That little bit of homework can be a game changer, no pun intended.
- Try to pick appealing places to stay.
You want your kids to have the best impression of a venue. If you can, try to arrange to stay someplace attractive. I chose William & Mary because I fell in love with how it looked when I visited. Likewise, students chose schools in D.C. or L.A. or NYC because of the lure of the city and in small college towns, for other reasons. In a small college town, it might be worth staying at a local, charming inn, rather than the highway motel.
- And one “for-what-it’s-worth” caveat to share …
After three recent, organized college tours with my granddaughter, my impression was admissions officers were most interested in admitting — and giving scholarships — to students who applied for early admission. This is what I heard: “By the time we accept students who apply for early admission, we have 50 percent (or another high percentage) of our freshman class in place.” As a fly-on-the-wall onlooker, I noticed the admissions officers had little patience for students who were casually “school-shopping” and great interest in those who articulated the school they were visiting was their first choice! If your child is really interested in one particular school, it might not hurt to make that known.
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