If this spring break is going to be your first stroll on a college campus since your own graduation day, here are four tips to help you avoid some rookie-parent campus visit mistakes.
Remember, this is about your kids, not you. Your priorities for safety, class size, spacious dormitories and nutritious food may not be exactly aligned with those of your child.
Tip No. 1: Keep quiet. As hard as that may be, the less you say, the more your child is likely to create their own impressions, ask their own questions and make their own judgments. This trip is not about you reliving your college experience; it’s about identifying colleges that represent a great fit for your child. Empower your student to take control of the visit.
Tip No. 2: Encourage your child to be proactive. Gently suggest that your child ask questions during the information session and the tour. Additionally, encourage them to initiate conversations with current students in the dining hall or in the student center. I always recommend that a student walk up to a group of college students and ask them for five minutes of their time. There is no question this is a tough task for many high school students, but the return on the investment is well worth the effort. College students love to talk about their school: the good, the bad and the ugly. Your student will receive some honest feedback on what current students like and what they don’t like about their school. If the chat reveals that everyone is in the midst of transfer applications because the academics have been disappointing, well then, you’ve learned an awful lot that you would never have heard from anyone in the admissions office.
Remember that you need to take all the information you receive with a grain of salt. It is the admissions office’s mission is to make you want to apply; consequently, they are only going to share their accolades and their strengths, and yes, the tour guides are really college cheerleaders in disguise.
Tip No. 3: Get lost. Get off the beaten path. Try and visit a dorm room that wasn’t on the tour. Say “hi” to students passing by to see how friendly the campus is. Ask for directions. Check out different facilities on campus: the theater, recreation center, science laboratories, dining halls, etc.
Don’t forget to tour the surrounding area. How far do you need to travel for that late-night pizza or that missing shower cap? What’s within walking distance, and how accessible are movie theaters, restaurants and cultural opportunities?
Tip No. 4: Have everybody jot down their thoughts. This task is especially helpful if you plan to see multiple colleges over several days. It’s very hard to remember which one had the gorgeous fountains or the brand new dorms. But, even more importantly, ask your child to record their impressions of how well they think they’d fit in at each school, both academically and socially. Can they visualize themselves on that campus? That’s key.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.