Visiting a campus is an investment of time and sometimes money. Here are 10 terrific tips, collected from real parents and students, to help you gather valuable, lasting impressions of the campuses you visit.
This isn’t as flip as it seems, and it will inspire you and your student to do some advance thinking. Your student should be ready with questions to nudge the guide out of sales pitch mode (“What do people do on the weekends?” “What do you like best/least about the school?” “Is it easy or hard to get the classes you want/need?”). Here’s the game (a tip from a parent): “We keep score of similar statements [amazing clubs! great tech facilities! everyone studies abroad!] and then we are pleasantly surprised at the moments when they are more real.”
A couple of colleges I toured with my son suggested (one insisted) that parents go in one group and students in another. It was brilliant. If more than one tour is offered, make this choice. Your student may have more of a voice if separated from you, and you’ll be more attentive to the experience because you won’t be focusing on your student. Later you can compare notes about your different tour guides and what you learned from them.
“Parents should walk at the back of the pack and at a distance from their kid to minimize the eye rolling,” one parent suggested. “Your reactions might color your student’s impressions. Parents are a much tougher audience than kids, especially if this is not your first time touring, so let them hear it the way they hear it.” In addition, this gives the prospective students a chance to ask questions.
“Resist the urge to visit two schools in one day, and visit when possible at the time of day when your student is typically more alert,” a dad advised. “Monitor your child’s blood sugar (frequent café/lunch/meal breaks). I noticed that I loved tours and schools that my daughter hated just because she was cranky and over-toured.”
The tour guide shouldn’t be the only reason to like or dislike a school, but our emotional responses are often on target. And, although the guides are all trained and prepped, they are also, most of them, genuine. “On the tours I took, the kids didn’t seem to be faking their spiel in any way,” a high school student recalled. “They were relaxed, funny, and willing to answer questions and tell stories.” Usually guides lead tours because they love their school…find out why they love it.
Before or after the tour, find ways to engage with other students on the campus. “Sometimes the parent has to be horrible (i.e., outgoing) and make the contact with the random student and then back off and let the conversation unfold between the two,” one parent said. Off-the-record comments can make a big impression.
Your student can snap pictures with her phone — anything interesting or unique about the campus. It will prompt her memory later when she wants to reflect back on the visit (“why did I love/hate that school…?”).
A student recommends keeping a mental ranking — favorite to least favorite. When she tours a new campus she thinks, “Do I like this better than X college? If I could get into both, which would I choose?”
Immediately following the tour, keep your opinions to yourself. Ask your student open-ended questions and resist the urge to quibble with his impressions. “They will change their mind about so many things so many times during the college search,” one mom pointed out.
Spend a little time checking out the surrounding community. Maybe you’ve done some advance research so that you magically “stumble” upon a fabulous café or ice cream shop. Sit back and lick your cone and let your teen imagine himself as a student on this campus and in this town.
“My daughter’s favorite tour was the one she took alone,” a parent remembered. “She’d already toured quite a few colleges with me and her father. It was fall of her senior year and she had a day off from school so she drove herself to a college where she spent half a day touring the campus and the art facilities. She talked with people and in the late afternoon returned with lots of brochures and information. This was the tour that helped her realize that she was done touring.”
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