Combining College Visits with a Family Vacation

The August ritual of visiting colleges contenders for your high school senior’s applications can be an enjoyable vacation for the whole family if you plan in some time for more than the expected campus tour. And your prospective students will get a better idea of what the whole experience could be as a student there.

Taking some extra time makes visits more relaxed for everyone, and by including younger siblings in the planning, they will feel like more than tag-alongs. Having other activities in mind gives the college-bound student a chance to explore more than just the campus.

The Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

The Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH © Stillman Rogers

What’s on campus?

Many colleges have museums or other attractions. Harvard, for example, has its collections of glass flowers, Native American life and minerals, all three a hit with younger kids. University of New Hampshire has its own dairy with an ice cream shop. Close to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst is a museum of childrens’ illustrators (especially the work of Eric Carle, creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar). The whole family can rent kayaks or paddleboards at Dartmouth’s boathouse to play in the Connecticut River, and there are Egyptian mummies at University of Vermont, in Burlington.

What’s in the community?

Campus life isn’t everything, and time to explore the neighborhood or community gives a better idea of what living there is like. Are there cafes where students hang out? Stop in one. Have lunch or dinner in a favorite student restaurant. Are there shops within walking distance? Browse in some. A little exploring will give a better sense of the community and what it would be like to live there.

What’s nearby?

Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.

Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.© Stillman Rogers

This is a good time to visit nearby places your student won’t have time for once school starts. Colleges in larger cities will be close to all manner of attractions; Boston University is next to the Fenway Park, where you can take a family-friendly Red Sox tour. But even those in smaller cities or rural settings will have places within reach. Jefferson’s home at Monticello is close to University of Virginia, for example. Do a little homework of your own before you go, and look at college websites for ideas. Other activities take the pressure off what can be a stressful experience for college-bound teens.

Sibling Curiosity

Exploring local life will give younger siblings a better sense of where their big brother or sister will be living. It can make their moving away less stressful to siblings because they are going someplace that’s become somewhat familiar.