Do's and Don'ts of College Visits during Spring Break

I wrote this post last week.

Usually, I download and let the words fly, crossing my fingers for a viral reaction. Instead, Coronavirus hit the airwaves, infecting much of social media with pandemic fever.

A rewrite was in order.

No matter your view or opinion of the novel virus, a few edits for the travel story were appropriate.



Spring break last year was a whirlwind travel extravaganza with our then junior in high school. We planned, mapped, scheduled hotels via Expedia and dinners on OpenTable for a 10-day car trip that included six college visits followed by a four day vacation in South Carolina. He was excited. Let me repeat that, he was excited.

My husband and I contained our glee, packed our bags and the car, and headed down I-79 for our first visit just a few hours away. This trip, combined with a similar venture with our older son, has given me an educated perspective on visiting colleges, as well as some tips and tricks for first-timers.




DO: Make reservations at the school for an official college visit.

Registering with the school accomplishes two things.


First - it puts your son/daughter in charge of where they want to go. (yes, within reason, be aware of cross-country flights) The college websites have loads of information, and you, as parents, can guarantee that your student has at least looked at the home page, majors, minors, extra-curricular activities.


Second - the college recognizes him/her as a potential student. You will receive a TON of emails. It's ok. Being in the know is better than missing an essential date once applications roll around.


DO: Plan the route.

We traveled from North to South with visits only on the way down to our final vacation destination. Our trip made sense on the map. We designed buffer days not only for relaxation but also to get a feel for the town where our son was especially interested in the school.


DON'T: Try to fit it all in.

Even with all that planning, we still experienced overload.

After a drive through the Washington DC area in a blinding rainstorm, with cars and buses hydroplaning into the median, we arrived at a school just in time for the scheduled visit. We were emotionally exhausted, hungry, and didn't want to walk in the rain on an empty campus. This school could have been a contender, but as always in life - attitude is everything. The stress of arriving on time, the harried driving, my shoulders up to my ears, and my frazzled nerves did not lend to a productive or positive event.


We entered the information session hoping for a clearing of the clouds and our spirits only to discover the dreaded - monotone speaker. Although a cheery tour-guide led our umbrella-clad pack, the rain dampened any highlights of the beautiful campus. Lesson learned: don't try to pack in a full-day drive straight to a visit. Give yourself some grace and some space.



DO: See the campus when the students are in session.

Although it may be easier to visit schools during the summer, it is SO important for both you and your child to see the students that attend a college - in their natural habitat.


There will be a sense of "fitting in" that just isn't gathered when the campus is empty.


Each school has a "vibe." I know, such an old-school word, but once you start visiting several colleges, you will understand what I mean. Preppy, cool, athletic, academic, friendly, snooty ... the list goes on, and each campus has a feel. Which is right for your son/daughter? Hint: Don't decide this ahead of time. Let your student determine when he/she is on campus and keep your observations to yourself (for now).


DON'T: Be too eager.

You know how it is. Your 18-year-old son hugs you in front of his friends, and you are hanging on to his arms like they are life preservers because he NEVER hugs you in public anymore. Yeah - don't do that. Learn from my mistakes. These are just a few of the comments I received from my boys during our various college tours:


Don't ask any questions.

Why are you walking so slow?

Why are you walking so fast?

Yes, I saw the brochure.

I don't want to introduce myself to the admissions counselor.

Are you wearing that?

Please stop asking me questions.

I don't know, Mom. I just don't know.


And that's the bottom line; they don't know. These 17/18-year-old kids really are trying to absorb it all in as much as we (parents) are trying to hold it all together.

Don't bombard or add to the stimuli. Try your best to take a deep breath, to not get too emotional (cry), and to absorb the moment along with your child. Don't show your eagerness, your distaste, your emotions. Let the student react first. (easier said than done)


DO: Ask questions

Here's the deal. You get one chance at a first visit, and although I am contradicting myself a bit here - and my older son rolled his eyes every time I raised my hand - there are a few questions you can ask. College is expensive, ridiculously expensive. And the costly part is not just the tuition and housing, but it's the books, meal plan, (chick-fil-a), and extras that add up each semester.


Some schools have incentivized their admissions by offering free books, copies, laundry. You will want to know this. You will also want to know the guide's perspective - Is the campus safe? Do the students stay on campus on the weekends? Are sporting events heavily attended? How active is Greek life? How accessible are the professors? What do you do for fun?


As for the "fun" - believe the tour guides who speak sheepishly, with a grin and a laugh. Those responses are most likely the truth. The students who say they are knitting blankets for the animal shelter on Saturday night -- I can roll my eyes with the best of them. Where do you think my boys learned it.


DO: Pack smart.

Visiting colleges is not a fashion show.


Although the cobblestone drive on Old Main looks like a runway, it is not heel-friendly, trust me. The last thing you want to do is face-plant into the azaleas.


A capsule wardrobe does work best here, minimal colors, minimal packing, suitable for all kinds of weather. No need to dress up. Wear something that won't wholly embarrass your child. And, prospective students should dress neatly but comfortably. Err on the side of caution - jeans vs. sweats, sneakers vs. slides. The admissions counselors at some schools do mingle, and you don't get a second chance at a first impression. (so cliche)


If you are staying in hotels, I would recommend following the recommendations of wiping down all surfaces with antibacterial wipes. Again, err on the side of caution. Check out the latest, legitimate resources on the novel-coronavirus in the areas that you are visiting and be as prudent as comfortable. Please note that I wiped down a hotel room before this virus, so nothing new here.


DON'T: Forget to have fun.

This is it, parents. I have said this so many times, and as the curtain of senior year is drawing to a close, I can't say it enough.


These visits will help both you and your student make an informed decision. These tours will guide discussions about what he/she likes or doesn't like. The information sessions will solidify that you are not the worst parent in the room. Clearly, the woman who asked three questions strictly relating to her daughter (giving SAT scores and GPA) during the open forum wins. These two, four, fourteen hours in the car, while they watch Netflix on their phone, will be just a taste of the drive you will take to drop them off.


Watch your son/daughter.

Without being noticed or too creepy - watch their face, their reactions. Note their mannerisms and comfort level at each school. To them, it's one of the most significant decisions they will make. They will be asked for an entire year what they are doing after graduation and where they will go. They will wait (and are still waiting) to hear from all their choices to see if they are "good enough" to be accepted.


Enjoy the ride, all fourteen hours.


DO: Tell them nothing is written in stone.

Sometimes, the school doesn't work out. Sometimes, college doesn't work out. There are many paths after high school. Choosing one road at 18 does not mean it will lead where you believed. And, that is ok.


On a final note: I do suggest seeing a variety of schools - public, private, big, small, liberal arts, rural, urban. You don't have to see all Division 1, 30K+ enrollment, monster class size to know if that is the right fit. Get a gist for the environment your student will thrive in and move on from there.


Best of luck with your Spring Break and college visits. Stay safe and healthy.


Wash your hands.


Love and Luck,


Kg

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