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As moms of four kids—two recent college grads and two still in the thick of things—our families have been on countless college tours and attended more info sessions than we can count. As co-founders of Daytripper University (daytripperuniversity.com), a college touring website, we’ve made it our mission to help families make the most of their college visits. Along the way, we’ve interviewed other parents, students and college counselors for their insight and advice so you can maximize your time on campus.
Here’s what every family should know before visiting their short list of schools:
REALIZE THAT TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
When you go is crucial—plan your visit while school is in session to get the full campus effect and see student life in action. While admissions offices are often open during breaks, the campus itself will be deserted. Also, avoid exam time—students are stressed, and everyone’s in the library. If you can only visit during the summer months try to go early in the season; many schools have summer sessions, and while quieter than fall and spring, it won’t feel like a ghost town.
Do your research ahead, map out your travel plan and book your tours online (some tours at larger schools fill up fast during peak visiting times). Set aside at least half a day per school to allow time for both the info session and tour, though if you have to choose, skip the info session.
ORGANIZE A SLEEPOVER.
Contact the school or a current student and see if your child can spend the night or at least a few hours in a dorm. Yes, get in touch with your aunt’s neighbor’s kid—don’t be shy, everyone loves to show off their school. Dorm visits are the best way to get a taste of student life, meet students in a natural setting and see if the school feels like a good fit.
EXPLORE THE TOWN.
Leave time to explore the neighborhood after the tour: Do you need a car? Is there public transportation? Are there parks nearby? Restaurants? What’s the housing situation beyond the dorms? Remember, this may be your teen’s home for the next four years.
TALK TO STUDENTS.
On our own college tours, we made the mistake of engaging solely with our tour guides. While tour guides are personable and informed, they’re also cheerleaders for their school and unlikely to always give an authentic take. Make it your mission to engage with students as they’re walking on the quad, at the dining hall, in the student union—ask questions about their favorite class, what they do on the weekends, school traditions and spirit,their professors, dining hall food, the dorms—that way, you get to the real heart of life on campus. Don’t be hesitant to ask for some negatives: “What’s your least favorite thing about your school?” can reveal valuable information. If you and your child are shy, a good way to approach someone is by asking for directions to the student union or admissions office—then start a conversation from there.
If your teen’s passionate about a school, see if it’s possible to sit in on a class or meet with a sports coach, the head of an academic department or an admissions counselor. Encourage them to talk to the admissions rep after the information session or stop by the office and introduce themselves. They should get contact information and follow up after the visit by email.
BRING BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALONG.
If you have younger kids in high school, bring them along. It could save you time and money in the future, and even motivate them to study harder. (“Yes, now I know why I’m working so hard!”)
Some schools take note of who’s toured the campus. If a school is one of your child’s top choices, demonstrate interest by not just visiting but making appointments to sit in on classes and if possible, to interview with someone in admissions.
LOOK FOR READING MATERIAL.
Pick up a copy of the student newspaper to read at home and scan the bulletin boards at the student center and bookstore.
EXPLORE AFTER HOURS.
Going out at night is one of the best ways to get a close look at the social scene. There’s usually one or two bars students congregate at—stop by for a drink.
LEAVE PRECONCEIVED IMPRESSIONS AT HOME.
One of the schools we visited was one that we, as adults, remember from our own college days as being a party school that was usually applied to as a safety. And yet, during our recent trip, we were completely surprised and impressed with the depth of its programs and student achievements, as well as the many opportunities for research, internships and study abroad experiences. Had we skipped this school, we’d have missed a university that’s changed tremendously over the last few decades.
ENCOURAGE YOUR TEEN TO REFLECT.
Have your child keep a journal with notes and impressions about each school visit. After a few tours and information sessions, the schools can blend together.
EXPLORE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAMPUSES.
Try to visit a campus that’s urban in addition to rural and suburban ones. If the school you’re interested in is too far away for a visit, choose a similar one nearby to get a feel for what it would be like. Although these may not be the schools on “the list,” they can help your child get a feel for what different sized schools and campuses offer.
DON’T BE OVERLY EXPRESSIVE WITH YOUR OPINIONS.
Let your child decide what he or she thinks and feels about each school. He or she has to feel comfortable and excited, so it’s important to get to the root of what they think without you influencing that opinion.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BONNIE KLEIN
Bonnie Klein and Liora Yalof started Daytripper University after years of college touring with their kids (and too many bad hotels and terrible meals to count). Happy to relive their Syracuse days, they’ve been hitting the road and spending time on college campuses in an effort to make college tours more fun and less stressful. On top of finding the best places to eat and stay and what to do near campus, daytripperuniversity.com is also designed to help parents navigate the college process.