By Geri Bain
Traveling to visit colleges is an integral part of deciding which school to attend. Because of what’s at stake, these trips can be stressful. But there are ways your can make the whole process enjoyable. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you start planning your trips.
Do YOUR homework. With tensions near the surface, the last thing you want to do is risk getting lost and being late for an interview or tour. Do yourselves a huge favor and have the trip details completely worked out in advance of getting in the car. Veteran parents will warn you that parking can be very frustrating on many campuses. Most college websites have a visitors section with maps and parking instructions. Print them out and allow plenty of time for surprises (one-way streets, full lots, etc).
Plan interesting meals in advance. With a bit of advance research, you can zero in on restaurants everyone will enjoy. In addition to each college’s visitor section, I find Chowhound is a good source of information for restaurants. Also plan to check out the campus eateries.
Don’t over-schedule. I talked to a Florida family that covered 12 New England schools in less than a week. Two weeks later, despite taking notes, they had no clear memories of any of the schools they’d seen. Some families can handle two school visits in a day, but for schools you’re really interested in, plan to do more than take a tour. For example, you might attend a class, set up an appointment with an admissions officer, etc.
Stay on campus. Most universities offer some type of on-campus housing, and are usually listed in the visitor section of the college website. Generally more “home” than hotel, they tend to have very limited space—so book early. The best part of these accommodations is being right on campus, so kids can take off and explore easily on their own, dine in the dining halls (for a fee) and get a feel for the campus.
Explore college towns. Most college towns are tourist attractions in their own right as well as an important part of the college experience. For example, after touring Boston University, one friend’s son fell in love with the city, so he looked into several other Boston schools that hadn’t been on his initial list. Another friend’s daughter selected the University of Colorado because of the ski trip her family took after touring the school.
Take notes. Especially on trips where you visit multiple schools, impressions are likely to swirl together so it’s important to record your impressions as clearly and quickly as possible. Many college books and websites offer forms for this; my family created our own form that highlights the features most important to us.
Focus on fun. Making a college visit about more than a university tour defuses a lot of the stress. Almost every college setting has interesting sights or activities nearby. For example, if you’re driving or flying from a distance to tour the University of North Carolina and other schools in the state, you might plan some beach time. And if you’re thinking about Stanford University, you might well want to spend some time exploring San Francisco.
Photo credits: The above photos were taken at Middlebury College in Vermont. The student (top right) is Molly Hubbard. The campus photo was taken by Bridget Besaw.