arents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over spring break to visit colleges of interest to their teenagers. While families can get a tremendous amount of valuable college information online, even in today’s Internet age, there’s no substitute for an in-person visit to get a true feel for an institution, its campus and its students.
Organizing a college tour road trip can be a daunting task for parents. Which schools should be visited? How many schools? How do you make the most out of a campus tour? Here are some tips for organizing a spring break college road trip that parents and students alike will give an “A.”
Cast a wide net
If you and your teenager haven’t already done so, start by putting together a big list of potential schools of interest – up to 20 schools – for further investigation and research. Carefully consider a wide range of selection criteria, such as geographic location, rural/suburban/urban campus setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic strengths and offerings, and athletic programs, among others. Include a range of “dream,” “target” and “safety” schools.
Finalize your target list
Once you have your initial pool of possible school targets, narrow that list to a more realistic number of schools to visit – schools that meet the criteria for your teen and your family. Fine tuning your list can largely be done by visiting schools’ websites, reviewing college guides from the library or bookstore and, of course, by working with your teen’s school guidance counselor. Other students, friends and family members can also offer invaluable insight.
Get test prep support
If you take a school off of your teen’s final target list because his or her SAT or ACT test scores aren’t in that school’s typical accepted student range – or you’re afraid they won’t be – consider obtaining SAT/ACT test prep support. For many students, skills can be mastered to raise test scores in as little as four to eight weeks.
Visit while college
is in session
Every family’s final “visit” list of schools is different. Some travel to 12 or more campuses while others only a handful. Based on the geography of your target tour list, you may wind up making a few road trips – perhaps one over spring break and then one or two long weekend treks. Regardless of how many campuses you visit, make sure to schedule your visits while college is in session and students are attending classes. Be sure to call ahead and check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visit/interview policies. If spring proves problematic because your target schools have spring break the same week your teen does, fall of senior year is also an ideal time to visit.
Be sure to make long trips efficient by planning several visits along the route. Figure out driving distances between schools so you and your teenager can determine which schools to visit on the same day. When you have a tentative itinerary, you and your child can begin calling colleges to schedule the visits. Be sure to reserve in advance official campus tours, and/or interviews with the admissions office, coaches or professors. Make your appointment calls at least two weeks in advance of your target visit date.
Encourage your teen to ask as many questions as possible – and ask different people the same questions to see if you get different answers. In addition to the official tour guide, speak to representatives based on topics of interest to your student. See if you can speak with a professor and/or student from your teen’s intended major. Now is your – and your teenager’s – time to determine if this learning environment is right for your family.
Get the ‘inside skinny’
Official campus tours are almost always 30-60-minute student-led affairs that give a good overview of the college, its facilities, academic offerings and student life. They’re a good place to start, but see if you can get some unofficial information too. Is there a recent graduate of your teen’s school enrolled – if so, have coffee with him or her. If your teen is an athlete, musician, artist or has another special interest, call in advance to arrange a meeting with the relevant faculty members.
Eat and stay on campus
What teenager doesn’t place a high priority on food? Most schools allow visitors to eat on campus; so eat in the dining hall or other on-campus eating establishments to give your teen a firsthand “taste” of the school’s food. Likewise, if you need overnight lodging, consider allowing your teenager to stay in a dorm. Even if you don’t know a student with whom your child can stay, many schools will arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student – if you call in advance.
Create a photo diary
Believe it or not, once your family arrives home from your college tour road trip, the campuses may start to blur together – especially if you visit numerous schools. Use your digital camera to take a lot of photos and videos during your visits to create a record of each school.
Patrick McNamara is the owner and executive director at Sylvan Learning of Albany and Clifton Park. For more information, visit SylvanLearning.com.