It’s almost time for spring break season. For many high school juniors that will mean loading up the minivan and heading out to visit college campuses.
Many families believe in empowering their high school students during the college admissions process. However, the campus visit planning, often brimming with travel logistics, frequently lands on the parent. So, besides Mapquesting directions from one college to another, what is the most productive role for parents while visiting colleges?
Parents should avoid both extremes; the stereotypical embarrassing, overbearing, constant question-asking parent and the laid-back, drop you at the front gate, call me when you’re done parent. Practical pointers:
Pre-visit: Make travel arrangements with plenty of cushion-time to allow for a meal on campus, the possibility of sitting in on a class, visiting the campus bookstore and meeting up with current students your child knows. Parents should set the tone for the trek prior to the departure. Make the car or plane ride fun; don’t dominate the conversation with “Don’t forget to ask….” suggestions. Instead, try to use the time to share your own recollections of college life at least the ones you want to share. Many families have returned from campus visits with a revitalized relationship with their teens.
During the visit: Divide and conquer. Parents should focus on admissions statistics, finances and security, and students should approach the visit from an experiential point of view, i.e., academic choices, dorms, social life and dining options.
Strike up conversations with current students. Eat lunch in the dining hall and observe. Do students seem happy/friendly? Are the students the kind of people you’d like to get to know? Would you like to spend more time there, etc.?
Check out the bulletin boards, college newspaper and listen to the radio station.
Visit the fitness center, student union and library. Do they meet your needs?
Take some time to explore the campus on your own, without a tour guide.
Snap photos and jot down notes, particularly if visiting multiple schools on the same trip.
Attend a class or meet with a professor.
Visit the surrounding downtown area where students will go for off-campus entertainment and shopping.
Post-visit: Allow your student to set the tone for sharing feedback. They may love it or hate it, and their opinions may gush before leaving the parking lot, or they may need some processing time.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.