Expectation: Parents and kids enjoy a beautiful day on campus, excitedly pointing out buildings and landmarks to each other. Perfectly placed squirrels nibble nuts, cheerful but not chirpy tour guides give thoughtful answers to thoughtful questions. At lunch, everyone tries not to talk at once analyzing pros, cons, and comparing the school to other options.
Reality (sometimes): Grumpy teens walk several paces ahead of sweat soaked parents. An annoying tour guide drones on and on. Sweatshirts are ridiculously overpriced in the book store, resulting in grumpy parents. At lunch, parents ask incessant questions that never result in more than one syllable answers.
Ok, ok, it might not always be THAT bad, but we all know it's easy to look back and wish things had gone differently. Below are 5 tips to maximize this time together and get the most out of that time on campus.
5. Manage Expectations
Don't expect it to be a perfect visit. Give yourself, your teen, and the visit itself some breathing room to be just ok. Simply being on campus is enough to get impressions and see how (or if) a school fits into your college list.
4. Don't get hung up on the things that won't matter
This sounds obvious, but it's easier said than done. Some examples of things that won't matter in the end? The weather on your visit day, tour guide personality, a particular building being closed, professor being out, or adorable squirrel nibbling a nut (true story for me) all impact your visit day but not your life on campus if you end up there. Try to keep your attention on the "vibe" of the campus, the programs offered, the dining and resident halls, and if you can envision yourself there.
3. Give your teen some space to process
As the mom of two teens, this one is hard for me! After all the effort it takes to get everyone on campus, it can be frustrating when there are seemingly no opinions beyond the yummy burger or lame dorms. Give them time and don't pressure them. Once it's time to compare schools, their impressions will bubble to the surface. (Note to self: take my own advice!)
2. Use your phone
Instead of trusting yourself to remember which campus had that really cool student lounge, take a picture! Better yet, take a video and narrate it with your impressions. It's easier and more fun than writing down information and a great way to let everyone keep track of what is salient to them. Then swap phones over lunch!
1. Talk to some students
Go see the Career Center, the Academic Support Center, the dining hall, a class, and of course, the bookstore. But one of the most important things you can do on campus is simple (but can be hard). Walk up to a group of students who seem relaxed and not in a hurry or working and ask if you can talk to them for a couple of minutes. Ask what their favorite/least favorite thing is about the school. Ask what they wish they knew before they came. Ask if they would still come here if they had to do it over. Then thank them and move on with your day (or find another group). The best question you can answer at the end of your day is: Are these my people? The best way to answer that is to talk to a few of them. Take a deep breath and be brave for 2 minutes! You'll be glad you did!
In the end, you only have a few of these, so do what you can to set yourself up to get the most information at each campus and enjoy the time together...just be prepared for that total at the bookstore checkout!
About the Author:
Julie is the owner of Green Means Grow College Consulting. She loves helping high school students find colleges they love. Coaching college application essays is her favorite summer activity (what a nerd), and she secretly longs to live somewhere snowy instead of Dallas. She has two teenage girls, so if you're looking for her, she's probably driving them somewhere or cheering them on at something.