Planning multiple college visits is time consuming and at times quite stressful. As a parent that has been through the college search process twice, I can certainly attest to that. After twenty years in the travel industry I founded Custom College Visits* to assist teens and their families from around the world with their campus visits. In this capacity I have had the privilege of creating trips that are an invaluable experience for high school teens and their parents. I’ve learned many invaluable tips over the years and I now share these tips with you today, as you and your child begin the college search process.
BEFORE YOU GO
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Review information about each college before your visit, and write down any questions that you or your child may have—questions that can’t be answered by reviewing what’s online or in the college’s printed materials. For example, you may want to know about healthcare services offered on campus or what communications and procedures are in place on campus in the event of an emergency? It is important for you to jot down these questions and ask them during the information session—or plan a visit to a specific office or department.
2. CREATE A LIST OF "MUSTS"
The ultimate purpose of visiting colleges is to help your teen determine where they will best fit in both academically and socially. As such, visits need to go beyond taking scheduled group tours and information sessions (but not at the expense of excluding them—see below). Setting specific goals ahead of time for what to see and do while on campus will go a long way toward helping your teen make the best choice(s). Encourage them to think about what aspects of college life might be most important to them. Forward planning will enable them to schedule meetings with faculty members in their academic departments of interest and determine what classes they might want to observe.
3. REMEMBER TO PACK THE ESSENTIALS
The first thing I tell students and parents before they depart is to wear comfortable shoes! You will be doing a lot of walking and you want to be able to focus on your surroundings and what the guide is saying—not on your feet! Also, check the weather forecast, particularly if you are traveling any distance. While the weather can change at any given moment, it will at least give you an indication of how to prepare. Taking an umbrella or two is always a good idea, as most campus tours run rain or shine.
4. Check the academic calendar and book online visits. It’s important that you check with each college to make sure that they are giving tours and information sessions during the time you wish to travel—the admissions offices are closed on certain holidays and for certain breaks (winter, fall, spring). Most colleges do not offer tours during reading periods either, as students are studying for exams and not available to give tours. In some cases, even if tours and information sessions are being offered, they may have reached capacity. It is important to find this out ahead of time, so you don’t have to change your travel plans.
5. LET YOUR TEEN LEAD THE WAY
Remember, this is a unique time for your teen—let it be all about them. Let them take the lead on the campus tours. Stay toward the back of the group, but encourage them to be front and center so they’ll feel more confident about asking questions and they’ll be able to hear the tour guide. If it seems they are uncomfortable with you asking too many questions during information sessions, perhaps wait until another time during the day—perhaps when they are sitting in on a class—to go back to the admissions office to find out more.
6. TAKE THE CAMPUS TOUR AND INFORMATION SESSION
After a few information sessions, it may seem like the message is the same everywhere you go. But you never know what you may learn—about the admissions process, life on campus, academics or financial aid. Someone may ask a question you hadn’t thought about—and you may find the answer helpful. Both the information sessions and campus tours give you a chance to ask questions and set the groundwork for the rest of your campus visit.
7. INTERACT WITH AS MANY PEOPLE ON CAMPUS AS YOU CAN
Whether it’s the tour guides, admissions representatives, faculty, or other current students, their perspective of the college community is unique. If possible, have a meal in one of the student dining halls and sit with or next to current students. Interact with them and ask questions. Most students are eager to share their experiences, and their insights can prove invaluable. Make a stop at the campus bookstore (This shouldn’t be too hard, as most kids want to stop here anyway!). Students often staff campus bookstores, so it’s yet another opportunity for your teen to interact with “real life college students.”
8. ALLOW AMPLE TIME IN EACH CITY OR TOWN
How much time do you need in each town that you will be visiting? If you plan to be on college campuses when classes are in session and you have several individual activities or appointments planned, you may want to allow a full day for each campus visit. You’ll want to allow enough time for your teen to truly become engaged in the culture of that college community. Plan to spend some time in the campus center, the hub of student activity. It’s a chance to pick up student publications that reflect the vibe of the campus; for instance, what are students at each college most concerned about? Does the school seem to lean left or right? Take the publications home to review more thoroughly. And don’t miss the college bulletin boards; a window into the types of events happening on campus and the clubs that are active. Keep in mind, that you might want to add some time to spend checking out the favorite student “haunts” and “hangouts” in the local area.
9. TAKE NOTES/PHOTOS TO HELP YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE SEEN
In the excitement of visiting a college, it’s possible that important details can be easily forgotten once you arrive home. Taking notes and/or photos is great way for your teen to record information and observations about the campuses you visit. Having detailed notes will also allow your teen to compare the different schools once you arrive home and they will serve as a refresher if he or she needs to come back to the information at a later date. Your teen can use whatever method is most convenient and easiest—smart phone, iPad, or even a small notebook will work! Parents may also want to take some notes so that you and your teen can compare your observations at a later date.
10. HAVE FUN!
While a college road trip is not what most of us think of as a typical vacation, it’s a chance for you and your teen to do things together, either one-on-one or with the whole family. Getting away from the everyday routine and experiencing something out of the ordinary will undoubtedly bring about great conversations and wonderful memories. Yes, it’s a lot of walking, driving and information to absorb, but as one mom told us: “It was definitely a long week, but what a GREAT bonding experience!”
* As Founder of Custom College Visits, Janice Caine uses her personal experiences and existing business skills to help parents of college-bound teens plan personalized, in-depth college road trips. Janice brings to the company over twenty years of travel experience. She has an extensive background creating individual and group travel itineraries — many requiring complex logistics and extensive research for both domestic and international destinations. She has planned hundreds of customized itineraries that have varied in length from four days to three weeks, encompassing all different school campuses from Ivies to small liberal arts colleges, from large and public universities to suburban or rural campuses. To learn more from Janice read her Book: Here is the Instafreebie.com link: College Road Trips A Parent’s Guide: How to organize your teen's college visits without losing your mind