Trips to visit colleges with your high school student can be exciting but also filled with anxiety centered on a major goal: getting to know schools well enough to make a big decision. Here are some tips for keeping focused on the job at hand.
Begin with Research
Make sure your student has explored each school’s website. Visitors’ pages list times when prospective students and their families are welcome for an official visit and campus tour. Many websites offer virtual campus tours, and your student can check Facebook, YouTube and campus blogs for discussions or videos created by students.
Don’t Go Off-Season
To get a true sense of what it’s like to attend a school, be sure to visit when it’s operating in full swing. So avoid the summer and holidays, and make sure you’re not on campus during exams, when students are stressed out.
Sometimes serendipity suffices when exploring a new place, but on college trips it’s best to have a concrete plan. So before you even choose dates, check events you might want to attend, such as open houses or study-abroad fairs. See if your student can sit in on a class. If he or she has interests in a specific activity, such as a marching band, try to be around for a home game. And don’t forget about weather. If you’re looking at schools where, say, winters are extreme, it might be a good idea to go when your student can experience what it’s like getting to classes with three feet of snow on the ground.
As the parent or grandparent, your main role is to be a pillar of strength and love, but you can also put your traveler’s hat on to provide help with exploring. Think about your favorite travel photos. They’re probably not of buildings but rather of moments that capture the ambience of a place: men playing chess outside a small storefront, children playing, people going about their daily business. Capture those “slice of life” moments on campus and create a photo library for each school for your student to scroll through, back at home, while making the big decision.
Look Into What the Locals Do
Spend some time at the bulletin boards you’ll find all over campus. Make notes of what’s going on, such as free movie nights or a group that meets on Fridays for salsa dancing. Find the school newspaper and radio station. Stop to chat with students. Many will tell you exactly what they love (or hate) about the school. And don’t forget to walk or drive around the community that surrounds the campus.
Don’t Be “That” Guy!
Remember the guy on the last tour you took who hogged the guide’s time with a ton of questions? By all means, ask questions, but do it sparingly and let your student take the lead. And there’s no law that says you need to stick like glue to your student when you’re all gathered around the guide or walking from place to place.
Plan a Little Down Time
Make sure you plan some quiet time around 3 or 4 p.m. each day of your visit, when everyone’s tired and needs to process information. This will allow your student to walk around campus solo and imagine what it might be like to attend the school (and give you time for extra sleuthing if you want). Then when everyone’s refreshed you can meet up for a great meal and a heart-to-heart talk.