Confession: I like to be in control. Fact: If you want a good college visit experience with your son or daughter, you must cede control. Ugh!
You’ve heard it a hundred times from the college counselor, and people like me: When it comes to the college search and application process, students must be in the driver’s seat. Well, college visits are the one time where you are probably in the driver’s seat, but everything else at this dance should be “student’s choice.” That goes for where you sit on Southwest, which Starbucks you stop at, what music is dialed in on the radio, and where you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you are able to visit campuses in person, these trips can be a peak parenting experience, no matter what may happen. My daughter and I toured a Chicago-area school in a blizzard that shut down O’Hare for two days and found us California natives buying armfuls of hoodies to layer. We holed up in our hotel, ordering room service and watching “Night at the Museum.” It was wonderful — the kind of together time that would soon be in short supply. While touring one expansive university, both my husband and daughter had to run out and purchase new shoes — blisters from all that walking! Highway construction caused a detour on the way from Connecticut to upstate New York, so last-minute Broadway tickets were purchased — “Legally Blonde,” here we come. The lesson here: Surrender, acquiesce (SAT word), and go with the flow.
There is nothing like getting a student onto a college campus to sharpen his thinking about what he wants and — heads up, parents of boys — to motivate him to dive into the application process. Also, some colleges may take a student’s visit into account when making their admission decision because they are looking for “demonstrated interest.” Students show demonstrated interest when they take various actions that signal to a school that they are seriously considering it. Not all schools consider demonstrated interest in the admission decision, but for those that do, a visit can be important. The rule of thumb is, if a college is within a day’s driving distance, you should make the effort to visit.
Parents, you actually do have a role here beyond responding to the navigation system. Your son or daughter may be the decision-maker, but you’re there for support — as observer and sounding board. Encourage your student to trust his instincts but keep an open mind. Discuss the factors that provoke a negative or positive response and help him figure out exactly where and when he had those feelings on campus. And don’t be afraid to explore his doubts. Students can learn as much about what they want from a negative reaction as from a positive one.
With all this firmly in mind, here’s more of my advice on surviving — and thriving — on the road:
The ritual of the college road trip can be a crucial part of the letting-go process for students and parents. In giving up some control and taking things as they come — whether it’s traffic, skipping an info session, or curling up to watch Ben Stiller movies in a blizzard — you’re making memories that will be very important to you in the coming months and years. Corny, but true!
My daughter, Roark, was a tour guide at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, for three years, and she also worked in the university’s admission office while an undergraduate. Here’s her perspective on college tours:
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