College Visits With Your Teen? Make the Most of the Journey
Your teen has worked hard in school, and you’ve worked hard to support them. Now it’s time for a rite of passage for many families. The college tour offers an opportunity to create lasting memories while helping your child make one of the biggest decisions of their young lives.
Here are six tips to help get the most out of college visits from those who have been there and back:
Remember the Mission
Keep the big picture in mind. The goal of a college tour should be to inspire students about the learning adventure ahead — to “raise their sights and aspirations” in the words of Jon Reider, a one-time college admissions officer who has counseled students and families on college decisions for more than 30 years.
Take this opportunity to talk with your child about their ideas for the future — even if they don’t have it figured out yet, it’s a valuable place to start.
Do the Advance Work Together
Enlist your teen’s help in planning each visit. Campus visits usually adhere to a pattern — group orientation by admissions staff followed by a student-led walking tour. Get the schedule in advance from the school’s website, and write down any specific questions about deadlines, student life, scholarships and financial aid ahead of time.
At the same time, you may want to arrange an interview, overnight stay in a dorm or classroom visit. If you know a current student, arrange to meet them for an unscripted description of college life.
Fun fact: Some colleges have travel money set aside for promising candidates. It never hurts to ask.
Try not to cram too many colleges into too little time. The sights, sounds and factoids will blur to the point you won’t remember which student center had the fish tank and which dining hall the most liberal hours.
If you decide to package multiple school visits into one trip for logistical reasons, try to schedule extra time in between stops just to sit and observe the campus or to relax by the hotel pool, so that you have time to reflect on what you’ve seen so far.
Keep the Focus on Your Student
Whether you’re nostalgic about your college days or wish you could have a do-over of your own experience, it’s your son or daughter who will be enrolling — not you. Let them take the lead. If they have their hearts set on a big-city experience, or only want to consider schools with fewer than 2,000 students, listen to their preferences and explore those options with them.
Enjoy the Journey
The college tour offers that increasingly rare opportunity to connect with your teen. Many college towns offer scenic attractions in their own right — plan a stop at a local museum, historic site or downtown area. Wherever you’re visiting, take advantage of the opportunity to chat up your teen about how they’re feeling about their next steps.
Likewise, while you’re savoring family time, why not savor the local specialties? A surprising number of college towns are associated with good food. Ask your hotel staff or around campus for a recommendation of a must-try treat.
The X Factor
No matter how many miles you log and ways you prepare, the college selection may come down to an intangible. Watch and see if your kid feels more comfortable or at home at a certain college. A good experience and feeling can make all the difference in making a decision.
Many years from now, you and your child might not remember every single stop you made — but you’re sure to remember the time you spent together. We wish you many smiles along the way!