Every year, mothers and fathers take their high school juniors and seniors on college visits. Parents know that they need to do this. The visits help their children build human connections to schools that would otherwise be imagined as a jumble of acceptance rates, possible majors, climates, and sports teams. Nothing turns a school into a real place, a potential home for four years, like a college visit. And though parents might not always like to admit it, the college visits matter for them as well. In a matter of months, their children will leave home and begin to experience new “firsts” without them. The college visit will be one of the last significant shared experiences between parent and child – a trip that will be referred to often during the chaos of moving in, and the first few months of freshman year phone conversations: Do you remember that building we liked? That professor we met? That dining hall?
The college visit can be a meaningful experience when the emotions surrounding it are not pressed by logistical stress, lack of planning, and practical travel decisions.
It’s easy to imagine a parent who is unexcited about the prospect of navigating maze-like urban roads and neighborhoods on visits to colleges in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, (or following a GPS in unfamiliar rural towns and midwestern cities.) This parent has probably taken time off from work to go on this trip, and is likely paying for a hotel room, meals out, and maybe a rental car. This parent also has a child, and maybe one or two of the child’s friends, who needs responsive answers to future-oriented questions and concerns. This parent faces a timeframe of visiting X amount of colleges in Y amount of time. Campus tours need to be arranged, college neighborhood hangouts need to be visited, and who do you talk to about that?
There are recognized ways of minimizing the stress that college visits create. Moreover, experts know the places, schools and neighborhoods that you are going to visit – and know countless parents who have done what you are about to do.
We have ready suggestions on how and where to visit, stay, eat, and save money. We want your college visit experience to be useful, significant, and memorable.
Here are few suggestions to consider:
Months Ahead, Decide When to Visit
– Families tend to be less busy during the summer, but so do college campuses. If you visit during the school year, you get a better sense of the school when it’s up and running, and full of people.
– Contact schools to see when they’re in session. High schools and colleges break at different times. You’re likely to have a good visit at the beginning of spring semester (11th grade). The last week of August and the first week of September are also good times to see many campuses.
– Consider regions you’d want to visit (like the Midwest.)
– Pick at least one large Public University, one large Private Institution, and one or two smaller colleges. You don’t know until you go. If you’re there, you may as well visit.
– Plot a circular route. You want to loop around, from school to school, without backtracking much. Actually measure the travel times and distances between the schools, and don’t forget about parking.
Pick Your Base of Operations Accordingly
– You know the “loop” you’re going to make. Pick a place to stay on that loop if you’re looking for convenience. If value is a concern, look near major roads that lead to one of the schools.
– Make the trip into the vacation that it already potentially is. Stay at a bed-and-breakfast, resort, or campground.
College Rates and Rooms
– Whether you’re in a small town or a major city, you’ll find that many colleges have discount room agreements with hotels. In Philadelphia, for example, the local chamber of commerce made an arrangement with the Best Western near Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, Moore College of Art and Design, and Temple University. You many very well get a “welcome kit” (key ring, bumper sticker, camera, and note from the mayor) thrown in.
– Don’t forget to check if the hotel has free parking and/or guaranteed parking.
– Alumni Networks. Some schools, like Wellesley College, have contacts with local graduates who enjoy having potential students as house guests.
– Other schools allow students to stay on campus overnight, to give them a taste of dorm life.
– Don’t forget your own friends. If you know anyone in town, it might be good to stay with them and encourage a relationship between them and your child.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
– Your method of travel determines your budget, your reach, and your timetable.
– Use a GPS, but also do a little research. Maybe there are routes and neighborhoods to avoid.
– Amtrak trains are another option. You can sleep while you travel. Sometimes Amtrak offers “Campus Visit Coupons” to future students.
– Airlines? Travel agents are particularly useful for these sorts of multi-stop, tightly-planned trips. Of course you can always DIY with Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, Hipmonk, or Bing, (which gives rate predictions). Be flexible on dates and routes, and travel on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, when fares tend to be lower. Many low-cost carriers, such as Southwest and Jet Blue, offer value rates year-round.
Consult A Travel Expert
– Between Flights, Hotels, Rentals, and Directions – you’ve got a lot of planing on your hands that doesn’t even include the college visits themselves. Save yourself, and visit a travel agent.
– “We can really help with situations that can frustrate parents – such as how to handle the complexities of coordinating visits to more than one city,” says Kathy Sudeikis, former National President and CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents. She’s has shepherded three of her own kids around college campuses.
Consult The College’s Expert
– The college’s visitor center will have plenty of tips for potential students. They’ve handled all of your questions before, and have answers to questions you may not have even considered. This is what Fran Lane, who heads the University of Georgia’s visitor center, provides visitors: “information on lodging, access by air, van shuttle from the airport, and driving directions from the four corners of the globe.” Lane cautions parents to avoid cramming the itinerary: “One mom came in ‘huffy’ and later apologized to us for her attitude, explaining that she was so tired from roaming through college campuses,” she says. Folks like Lane know the pulse of their college, and can tell you what college events – academic and athletic – might be of interest to you.
How To Maximize Value In Limited Time, (And What Not To Leave Out)
– There’s more to see than the Open House.
– Budget your time by knowing when the college gives tours.
– Don’t visit more than two schools in a day.
– Think of questions ahead of time for the tour guide and anyone else you might meet, (like a professor, student, or administrator).
– Take an off-campus tour. Walk and drive around. Check-out the off-campus neighborhoods where students tend to live. This will be your student’s home for four years.
– Don’t believe everything you read and see in the recruitment brochure. There was an occasion when a client believed a brochure which assured them that the campus was on the edge of large city. Though we tried to explain that this was not the case, the client drove through cornfields and cow pastures for two hours trying to see it. (Not at all how the brochure described it.)
If a school is located in a undesirable neighborhood, the PR material will call it up-and-coming, or not mention the location at all. A recent client, touring with her daughter, commented, “”one campus portrayed with rolling, green hills was actually in a very urban setting – with some disturbing neighbors. To get to the school, we took a route different from the recruiter’s recommendation and found adult clubs, shabby neighborhoods, and dirty, littered streets.”
– See the town. Every city has natural attractions, sports teams, restaurants, and quaint aspects. Know what the area will offer when you’re student has a car, and is twenty-one.
– Don’t book up the whole schedule. Maybe visit a random college in the area, or just do something that will make the trip unique.
Remember, the college visit can be a meaningful experience when the emotions surrounding it are not pressed by logistical stress, lack of planning, and practical travel decisions. Knowing what you now know, you can prepare for the occasion, and make it memorable.
Take the next step, and find more here.:
The American Society of Travel Agents: This official society site offers plenty of insider travel tips.
The College Board: Great college search resources, including a checklist for visitors.
Campus Visit Magazine: a website targeted for families planning to visit colleges.