This spring, I will be spending a few weeks with my daughter touring college campuses; she’s a sophomore in high school and eager to start exploring her options. Just as her brother did before her, she has visions of stepping onto a campus and finding her perfect match. Fortunately for her, I have learned a thing or two about college tours over the years, which means her experience may actually come pretty close to the one she’s envisioned and not end up like one of those road trip horror stories; her brother, unfortunately, wasn’t so lucky. Depending on how you handle the situation, your time with your child can be something to treasure or something that can pull you apart. Here are a few things I have learned over the years that may help you keep the peace during your child’s college tours.
I admit that I was just as excited as my son was when we took our first college tour together. I hadn’t stepped foot on a college campus in years, so I was eager to see what had changed. I probably had a few pages of questions and asked every one of them. Each time I opened my mouth, it seemed to make my son more agitated. Midway through the tour, he erupted and asked me to just stay quiet (not his exact words, but you get the point). The remainder of the tour was extremely uncomfortable and he refused to speak to me on the ride home. When I finally asked him why he was so mad, he responded that he didn’t care what it was like when I went to college, he wanted to know what it would be like for him to attend college.
As difficult as it may be, you need to step back and let your child take the lead during the tour. It may be helpful to have him/her write down a few questions prior to the tour, as well as having him/her carry a note pad and pen to jot down other questions that may arise during the tour. Avoid giving your child a walk down memory lane during the actual tour and let him/her take it all in without your immediate feedback. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time at the hotel, or on the ride back home, to discuss your impressions and make comparisons.
After our first campus tour together, I realized that there were so many things to discuss, but I had failed to take notes or grab information on specific things of interest. My son was so miffed about my incessant questions that he had simply checked out of the tour (mentally), so basically it was if we hadn’t even been there. Since most campus tours can be fairly brisk, it’s a good idea to document everything for your child, leaving him/her free to take in the moment. Carry a camera (or cell phone) with you and take pictures of buildings, gathering areas and other places of interest. Pick up the campus newspaper (it has quite a bit of information), fliers from campus clubs/organizations, and other materials that may have additional information about the campus. After the tour, encourage your child to look through the materials and take notes on his/her experience while it is still fresh. This will be very helpful down the road when it comes time to write college admission essays, as he/she will be able to document what specifically drew him/her to the college campus. It may also help your student make a final decision, should he/she be accepted to more than one college.
I never really anticipated all the different emotions my son would experience on the tours. Although some of the campuses lived up to his preconceived ideas, many did not. If your child arrives with a certain vision in his/her head and finds the reality to be far from it, he/she may experience episodes of disappointment or even depression, especially if the college was high on his/her list. Some college tours are heavy on PowerPoint presentations and statistics, which can be overwhelming for a student. I remember sitting in on a presentation where they showed the incoming grade point averages of the current freshman class. My son, whose grade point average met the requirement posted on the website for admissions, leaned over and whispered, ‘I guess we can leave now.’ Even though his grade point average satisfied the eligibility requirement for admission, he still felt defeated and assumed he had no chance of being accepted. This is all because one slide on a PowerPoint revealed that the majority of students accepted had better grades than he did. Of course, you should also expect that there will be one or two of those ‘ah-ha’ moments where your child swears they have found the perfect college and wants to stop looking at any others. I had this debate with my child after a successful tour at Florida State University. To this day, I think the pretty blonde in the Honors Hall is what sealed the deal for that school.
Campus tours can be time-consuming, so don’t try to schedule more than two per day. Be sure to visit while classes are in session, as this will give your child (and you) a better idea of what it will be like when he/she attends. If you have the time, eat a meal in the cafeteria and explore the surrounding community, too. This will give you a taste (literally) of what life will be like for your child.
Over the years, I have learned to just go with the flow and follow my child’s emotional cues during tours. No longer do I race to the front of the pack and bombard the tour guide with questions. Instead, I allow my child to determine the pace and act more as a secretary, taking notes and pictures along the way. I cherish the time we have together, whether it’s sitting through a slideshow or sipping Starbucks outside the campus library. Each step we take together this spring will remind me how much she has grown and how proud I am of the young woman she has become. Here’s hoping your college tours will be filled with memories and laughs, too.