Well, we are just back from a whirlwind college visit. We rushed back to beat the snow, but we were not completely successful — in either beating the snow, or rushing back — as you will read below… Um. But while it's still fresh in my mind, I thought I'd pass on some tips for how to make the most of a college tour, which many think is a vital aspect of preparing for college. We've done it several times now, and the campus visit can be a very important part of deciding on a school for your senior.
Do plan ahead. Many colleges have specific days set aside for visits. On these days they will have special activities and tours already planned, which can be great, because then you can learn a lot of information very efficiently, while still being somewhat anonymous. If you want to go on a different date, call ahead to let the college know when you are coming. That way they can find someone to give you a tour.
However, don't plan so far ahead that you miss an opportunity. We learned this one the hard way with #2. Some colleges have particular dates (usually a weekend) on which they invite certain students to come compete for scholarships. If you think your child may qualify for something like that, then wait to plan your trip until you know whether or not he has been invited. We visited a college with #2, and while we were there we found out she was being invited to such a weekend two weeks later. It was impossible for us to make the trip again… we found the invitation letter in our pile of mail when we got back.
Do wait until after acceptance to schedule a tour. I used to think it was best to visit during junior year, but now I believe there is no reason to go on a visit until you have narrowed down your selection to the top three or less. Using a college visit to decide whether or not to apply is a serious consumption of resources — which I do not have enough of to waste, lol. You can tell enough from a college's website to decide if it merits an application; then the visit can help you make a final decision of where to attend.
Do take pictures. If you visit many colleges, it is easy to forget details about each one. Pictures will help. Take notes of things you like and don't like.
Do see a dorm room, and if possible, have your child stay overnight in one. I doubt this will be a major factor in your decision-making process, but it will be a growing experience for your senior. It's good for your child to find out (and have time to get used to) the idea that most dorm rooms are not magazine-picture quality, before she has to live in one. Also, staying overnight with other students is a chance to get exposed to the need to get along with someone whom you may not naturally pick as a friend.
Do speak to students on campus. Most of them will be friendly and honest about their school. Use the opportunity to ask them questions you can't get answers for elsewhere, like what is their favorite class and why, how's the food at the caf, etc.
Do let your child take the initiative in getting information, asking questions, etc. Try not to direct him too much in what to say or where to go. Let him decide what he wants to see and do. This is good practice for when he will be completely on his own. Make yourself available to help, but encourage him to do as much interacting as possible.
Do give your child space to answer questions. Don't be quick to jump in and answer for him. Again, you want your senior to practice interaction and speaking for himself. As homeschoolers, we often have a tendency to over-control social situations for our kids. Step back and allow your child to handle as much as possible.
Don't plan your schedule too tightly. You want plenty of time to be able to ask questions, dialogue, and just soak in the atmosphere. You don't want to be exhausted and stressed out. Plan a relaxed schedule, with plenty of time between appointments, if possible.
Don't go to every seminar or scheduled event. We may think we have to attend everything that has been planned, but most of the time that is not true. Many of the seminars are just people blah-blahing about things you could figure out yourself or have read on the school's website. Pick and choose what will be most beneficial and informative to go to. Don't feel guilty if you decide that something will not be worth your time.
Don't bring younger children to formal interviews or to visit financial aid. If necessary, one parent can stay with the senior and the other with the younger kids. It is great to have the younger children along for the trip, because they will eventually be thinking about college, too. But certain events should be focused on the senior without the youngers causing distractions. They can sit quietly during informal information sessions and go along for a walking tour, however.
Don't travel in white-out conditions, or you may end up stuck in a snow-filled ditch and have to wait two hours to be pulled out, because AAA can't find a tow truck to come get you because the Sheriff's department has commandeered them all. Don't ask me how I know.
Don't push for home when you're already two hours behind schedule (see above) and therefore won't arrive until after midnight, have already been on the road for 8 hours, and are still reeling from a long weekend of mother-anxiety (and resulting lack of sleep) about letting go of your senior, or you may have a melt-down. Don't ask me how I know.
Going on a college tour can be a fun time in the life of a family. Use these tips to keep it calm, cool, and relaxed, so the entire family can have a wonderful adventure… sans melt-downs. :-)
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