By: Bonnie Klein
Some years back, while touring NYU with my son, I kept asking him if he REALLY wanted to attend a city school. Especially one, like NYU, without a traditional quad and enclosed campus. Finally, frustrated, he turned to me and said: "Mom, it's you that wants a campus, not me." It was an ah-ha moment, one in which I realized it was time to take a step back, to let him steer the process, and to listen. To hear what he wanted; what he was looking for in a school. I had loved my college years centered around a large central quad, the ivy drenched buildings, kids spreading blankets on the lawn to congregate in nice weather. I loved the one street college town down the hill, joints where chicken wings and pizza reigned. He, on the other hand, aspired for an entire city as his campus, with all its advantages and opportunities. We had different dreams. It turned out he knew what he was after, and made the most of his four years at NYU, happy and challenged.
So as you set off on your college search with your child, I advise you to leave these things behind….
Your desires/goals: You may like the idea of a big school, the thought of homecoming/parents weekends spent attending rowdy football games, but does your child? Is he or she more comfortable in a smaller environment? Do you like nothing more than sunny days and warm weather while your child prefers thick bulky sweaters and rain boots? Do you want a prestigious school, one where you can wear the bumper sticker with pride on your car while your child might like something more low-key?
Your expectations: There are expectations, and then there is reality. There are no guarantees in college admissions. Even the most qualified students get rejected from their top choices, so be reasonable, don't project, and keep things in perspective. If a particular school is your top choice for your child—well shhh don't say so, in case they don't get in. There is enough pressure throughout the college process on our kids that we don't need to add to it. Emphasize the positives of each school you visit, focusing on all the possibilities. It may wind up being their dream school, and you don't want them to think that to you they settled for second best.
Your preconceived notions: Some thirty-odd years ago, many of my less academic friends wound up at a school (I'll leave unnamed) that had a reputation as a party school. It was everyone's safety, the location it’s the prime draw. Touring schools for Daytripper, I was shocked by how impressive this university had become. So throw away your old impressions and beliefs. Don't listen to your neighbor's opinions, things you've read in Niche, U.S. News, The Princeton Review, or even from the counselor at your child's school. Form your own ideas and takeaways. Be open-minded to all possibilities before you hit the road.
Your phone: There's always that one rude person talking on their phone during the tour, don't let that be you. (Texting is just as rude). It's disrespectful and distracting to not only the tour guide but to everyone else on your tour. Be considerate and courteous, and remember you're setting an example for your child.
Your questions: It's hard, but hold back, and let your kids ask the questions-- at both the tour and information session. After all, they are the ones ultimately attending the school, and it's time they stop relying on you to speak for them. Also, don't waste everyone's time with questions that can be found easily on the college's website-most which are all extremely informative and comprehensive. And never ask tour guides personal questions that may make them uncomfortable, such as their GPA's, SAT scores, or financial aid packages.
Your agenda: This is not the time to catch up on your emails, schedule your doctor appointment for next Wednesday, console a friend, or make dinner reservations for later in the week. In other words, be present before and after the tour. Being out on the road is a great time to catch up, reflect on your visits, and have some fun together as a family.
Your college memories: Sure the quad might bring back memories of your ultimate Frisbee days and having lunch at the local pizza place may remind you of countless late-night pies, but too many stories of your collegiate days will turn your child off. Leave your nostalgia behind and look ahead to new college memories for you and your child--at their school!
Your college sweatshirt: We get it, you loved every minute of your four years at school and wear its colors with pride –just don't do it on the tour. On the one hand, do you really think your tour guide wants to see you advertising a rival university? It probably doesn't matter, but why express a preference for any particular school! If you're at your alma mater, you can probably get away with it, but expect eye rolls from your child.
Your fashion: Touring is not the time for stylish outfits or shoes, on most campuses, you'll be doing a lot of walking, and many are hilly. Afterward, we hope you'll spend some exploring the surrounding area. We like to bring a pair of Tevas or Birkenstocks with us during warm-weather trips and sneakers, loafers or low-heeled boots during colder months. Attire on college campuses is casual. It’s all about being comfortable, and unless you’re dining somewhere a step up, jeans will also carry you through to dinner.
Your music tastes: Make long car rides a democratic affair-- The goal is to have fun, not argue between rap, country or rock-n-roll. Decide on a playlist that makes everyone happy, download a podcast, or consider listening to a book on tape. Or how about a novel idea: turn off the stereo. Car trips are ideal times for conversation.
What should you bring? A sense of humor, patience, and a smile always goes a long way. Add an umbrella or raincoat for just-in-case scenarios, power bars, dinner reservations, and of course our downloaded itinerary for the inside scoop of the best places to explore beyond campus.
Enjoy and happy touring!