Parent Posts

“Just say no” to the dream college tour

At UniversityParent, we’re big fans of taking high school students on college tours (read why here). But we also love sharing a variety of viewpoints and really appreciate guest blogger Debby Beard’s good reasons for not touring every dream school on your student’s list. We think you will, too!

Ahhhhhh…Stanford. What’s not to like? Beautiful mission-style architecture, swaying palms and a flowering “S” beckon. This university would be a great fit for anyone…. When can I move in?

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It’s not just palm trees and red tile roofs that entice tens of thousands of potential applicants to Silicon Valley every year. A brilliant student body and rankings hype also factor in. Let’s admit it…we parents encourage these dream school visits as much or more than our students. But with Stanford’s acceptance rate continuing to hover around 5%, it might be time to wake up from our west coast fantasies.

These are a few of the reasons my own family WON’T be visiting the college of my 17-year-old daughter’s dreams:

There’s a good chance it won’t happen.

Campus visits are an essential part of the college search but they can get out of control. My daughter’s current first choice school (not Stanford, BTW) is a little out of our price range unless she is awarded some long-shot scholarship money. Her solution is to not visit this school and fall in love when there is a good chance we can’t afford it. If she finds out next spring that she’s hit the jackpot, we’ll schedule a visit then. It doesn’t matter how amazing a campus is if you can’t afford it once you’re accepted.

We have the Internet.

The two schools we will visit this fall happen to be fairly close to each other geographically, and she already knows that her GPA and ACT score will get her an out-of-state tuition waiver and other guaranteed merit aid. Before visiting a campus, find out as much as you can online, including having your student email any important questions.

Don’t visit a campus if her “deal breakers” are not satisfied. Does the college have her major/s of interest? If your student loves to go to football games, does the school have a team? Is it important to have a big Greek life? Most deal breaker questions can be answered online before an actual visit.

Again, we have the Internet.

Websites like and are great ways to see unbiased video of schools on your student’s list. Transcript evaluations are done via email all of the time now — request Skype meetings with admission officers and academic advisors. I have even heard of campus tour guides conducting Skype question/answer sessions. Just like setting up an advisement meeting or an in-person tour, your student can schedule that person’s time electronically. If an electronic meeting is scheduled, make sure you have questions and concerns ready so precious time isn’t wasted.

University staff should respond positively to a request like this. If you do get attitude (or worse, no response), consider it a red flag. You’re shopping for schools, looking for the best value, quality and fit.

We have the technology. Use it!

While you’re at it, look for schools that make academic advising easier.

When researching schools online, make a note if they have installed software such as Degree Works or Degree Compass. These are invaluable tools for advisors and students. Complete College America reported in 2012 that students on average take 20% more classes than needed for graduation. Degree Works helps identify classes your student needs to get his degree and organizes these classes in a way that is easy to see how the puzzle pieces all fit together.

Degree Compass does one better. By using the same technology as Netflix, Amazon and Pandora, it can make recommendations based on previous classes taken. A student can decide a major based on classes he has done well in, past test scores and academic record. Degree Compass can predict a grade and how well a student will do in a particular class. These two programs also support timely graduations by listing pre- and co-requisites.

It’s time to get over the idea of a “university soul mate.”

For better or worse, it’s the parent’s job to debunk the fairytale that there is only one magical college for a happily ever after. We encourage our children to dream, but we also have to be practical. Gently dissuade your student from believing that a single school will reveal itself as a “perfect” fit. With thousands of choices, there is an excellent chance he can be happy and get a great education at many of them.

Debby Beard is a private college consultant and small business owner. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Colorado and is a parent of a senior in high school and a senior in college. Debby blogs at Practical College Parent.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s new High School Parent eNews and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for a preview of what’s ahead. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow High School parents by joining our High School Parent Facebook group.

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