Spring Break – Junior year of High School is the official kick-off to the college tour season. And even though each kid is different; my first son wanted “California or Bust” the second son was all about playing football and my current junior is a girl who wants to study art, the college tour road show is for the most part a ritual that has seen few changes.
Step One: Sometime around the beginning of the new year, spend time with your student trying to come up with a working list of colleges to visit. Depending on your student, this could be a very short conversation or one that drags on for weeks. Because honestly, sixteen year old kids hardly know what they want for lunch let alone where they want to spend four years going to college. But let’s assume you are able to jot down 5-7 schools that are within reason (this would be the parent’s reason because a list of the top 5 party schools in the United States might not be your idea of a real college list), this is the beginning of your college tour plan. I used the website batchgeo.com to map the schools on my daughter’s list. This is a very good way to visualize where the schools are located in relation to one another. Immediately, it became obvious that there were outliers that we weren’t going to be able to visit on our tour.
Step Two: Prioritize. You can’t visit every school your child wants to see – it’s too expensive, time consuming and to be honest, after your 6th or 7th campus, it can become mindnumbing and they will all start blurring into one another. Once you have your priority list you must first, before you book a flight or reserve a rental car, make an appointment for the college tour/information session. Most schools have both and they are booked together, usually first thing in the morning or after lunch. Combined they take about 2 0 2.5 hours to complete. These sessions fill up, especially during spring break so book these first. You can always cancel later. When choosing your tour and info session check first to see that the college is in session because it is spring break and not just for high school students. Sometimes, one of the schools will be on break and it can’t be avoided. Schools still give tours even when school is not in session. Seeing kids on campus is a big part of the information you will need to make your decision.
Step Three: Arrange transportation and book hotels. I start on the school’s website and look on the admissions page for suggested area hotels. Almost always they provide a varied list of choices including discounts (if you mention you are visiting the school you get a better rate). I also ask anyone who has a kid currently attending that school as parents always have the inside scoop (especially when the school is located in the middle of nowhere as many of them are). Transportation is really the killer piece in the entire process. Depending on your student’s list and how far away the schools are from one another. This year, my daughter’s list includes schools in five states making it impossible to simply drive from one to another. A combination of one way flights and rental cars was required to get us from school A to school G.
Step Four: Try and add in a few things to see, do or eat for yourself. Yes, this college tour is all about your kid and it’s their tour – you are just there because they are too young to rent the car – but it’s a lot of work, pressure and stress to make sure everything comes off without a hitch so make sure there is something in it for you. For me, this means researching the best local places to eat and I make reservations way beforehand. We don’t spend any time wandering around looking for a place when we are hangry and it also gives me something to look forward to.
Step Five: Packing. This is an important piece as you will most likely be on the road for some time and you don’t want to be dragging around a huge piece of luggage (or two). Pack a carry-on size suitcase and make sure you bring comfortable shoes, tide-to go, a raincoat, an extra sweater or sweatshirt and a bathing suit (some hotels have pools and a swim might be the perfect thing to let off some steam).
Step Six: Get to the tours on the early side and make sure you always sign in. It’s very important that the colleges see that you made the time and effort to come and visit their school. If there is a school not on your list but it’s in the vicinity, stop in, pick up literature and sign your name. You never know when you’ll need another school to add to the application list and even if you didn’t go on the tour, they still see that you were there. While on the tour, try not to be “that parent”. The one that asks all the questions and usurps the guide’s time and energy. This is your child’s tour and you will be a total embarrasment to them. Most likely every question you have will either be asked by someone else or you can find it online or in the literature you will be inundated with. Do use your phone to take photos (when you arrive on campus take a photo with the name of the school first so you know to which school those photos belong) and take notes if you feel you need to. Again, everything you need to know can be found online or in their brochures. There isn’t a question you are likely to have that they haven’t been asked 10,000 times before.
Step Seven: Encourage your child to really take a good look at the kids, the dorm rooms, the quad, the dining all and see if they can picture themselves there. A good fit is the MOST important piece of this puzzle. There are so many fabulous schools in the United States but not all of them will be fabulous for your child. The priority should be first and foremost that they are happy where they land. Happy students make good students. Unhappy students just want to come home.
Step Eight: Downtime is important. Non-stop college touring takes a lot out of a student and her mother – don’t spend every second rehashing everything you saw and felt. Take the time to marinate the information overload. Let your kid put on their headphones in the car and listen to their music. Rent a movie in the hotel room. Listen to podcasts or books while driving.
Step Nine: At the end of each tour, it’s a good idea to make a few notes regarding what your daughter or son thought about the school – things they will be able to recall months later when it’s application time. Most schools have a supplemental essay on the application that asks, Why Us? Wouldn’t it be nice to whip out your list and have 5 great reasons why them instead of searching their website like everyone else? That time taking personal notes will pay dividends later.
Step Ten: Try and enjoy the one on one time with your child. The fact that you are on this college tour means that in a little over a year they will be moving away from home. And in my experience, sometimes they move very far away and don’t come home often. Treasure the time you have together and make some memories.