It’s that time of year — high school juniors are finally realizing college looms in their near future, and high school seniors are attempting to choose where they will spend the next four years. Before taking off on a college tour, here are five tips to make the experience more pleasant — and productive.
Plan the trip together.
Don’t assume what your student wants out of college. Ideally, start your visits the spring of their junior year in high school. Talk to them about where they’d like to live-that’s much easier than asking what they want to study. Decide how long you can travel, and talk about your budget. Try to squeeze in a ‘fun’ outing during the visits-you’ll be glad to have part of the trip to take your mind off the stress of the next few years. Don’t overwhelm your student by planning every detail alone-the more they own the trip, the more open minded they’re likely to be.
Don’t overwhelm your student on the first trip.
College visits are stressful. Students are worried about admissions, moving, and making what might be the first ‘big’ decision of their lives. Parents are worried about finances, admissions, safety, and their child’s happiness. Look at a map together, and choose four or five schools to visit on the first trip. It’s possible to do two campus visits in one day, so think about proximity and plan carefully. Visits usually involve a walking tour and an admissions interview, so plan 2-3 hours per campus.
Choose a variety of schools to visit.
Try not to get stuck in one idea of what college should be like for your student. Visit small, medium and large campuses. Go to both public and private schools. Providing your student with a variety of colleges to experience first hand will allow them to see there are all kinds of options.
Schedule interviews and meetings prior to your visit.
If your child has a special interest in college, schedule a meeting with the appropriate coach, faculty member, or admissions officer. The face-to-face opportunity can provide both students and the college a chance to assess compatibility. College admission offices are very helpful with facilitating these kinds of connections, but plan ahead. Same-day meetings are very hard to manage. If visiting a private school, be sure to schedule an interview for your student. Many private colleges require these, and they are an excellent opportunity to show a student’s strengths and fit for the college outside of the paper application process.
Trust your instincts.
Visiting a college campus offers so much more than an online information search. On campus, encourage your student to imagine themselves in the quad, living in the dorm, eating in the cafeteria, and sitting in the classrooms. Encourage them to look around at the other students, and see if they feel at home. Talking to current students provides an excellent sample of what the campus life is really like. Trust your student’s instincts-they will walk away with a feeling about the school. Instead of having them immediately rank their experience, encourage them to journal their feelings and reactions to what they saw and heard. Jennifer Wolfe is a mom to two teens, as well as a middle school teacher in California. She has degrees in elementary and secondary education and has taught for 23 years.