You did it. You survived childbirth and the first year, where the primary goal was just to keep your child breathing. You survived toddlerhood, where you needed to learn the value of putting yourself in time out. You survived elementary school where you learned the importance of restraint when your child’s feelings got hurt by another kid. You survived the tween years…barely! Now it’s time to think about sending that precious bundle of joy off to college. The first thing you need to know is, if you are not ready now, you will be. Remember when you first got pregnant and the thought of delivering the baby and taking him/her home was terrifying? And then, by the beginning of the 9th month, you couldn’t wait to get it out of you? This is how it will be by the time your teen leaves for college… if you can’t fathom it now, by early August, they will have driven you so crazy, you will be VERY ready for them to go. While we wait for that to occur, we do have a few roads to travel. One of those roads includes college road trips. That period where you travel with your teen to a few of the colleges on their (or your) list to see if it sparks any interest. You will attend open houses, schedule interviews, stand and listen to the wise words of endless academics, and hopefully have a little fun along the way. We can help with 5 easy steps to prepare for that process.
Create a list – this is probably the hardest part. We love the Fiske Guide to Colleges because of the frank descriptions of life on campus and the Overlap section which tells you which schools are similar to the one you might be interested in. If you are lucky enough to have a child who knows which direction they want to go, there are some very useful lists in the front of the guide. Another guide we like is The Princeton Review Best 384 Colleges because it gives you 3 different perspectives. One from Princeton Review, one from the school, and one from the students.
Organize your list geographically and then by size – due to the development of the Common App most people today begin with a list of about 20-30 schools and narrow down to 10-15 applications. Map out your list of 20-30 colleges using Google maps or an online college trip planner (I haven’t yet found one I like). Determine which schools are nearest to one another, keeping in mind that they may not be organized by state lines. For example, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA is actually only a 2 hr drive from Case Western in Cleveland, Ohio, so if you are interested in both, it makes sense to see them on the same trip. Determine which schools you will drive to, and which you will use public transportation (Upstate NY schools vs. Boston schools). If you are seeing more than one school in an area, try to choose starkly different atmospheres. For example, on an upstate tour, you might want to see Syracuse University, and then drive the one hour trip to the much smaller Colgate University, for a very different picture. Plan each visit – Timing is important. You don’t want your child to miss too much school for these trips, but you do want to be there when class is in session so you can get a good feel for what the campus is really like. School breaks make the most sense, but be careful that the school you are visiting isn’t also on break. Most colleges don’t take February break, but do take spring break sometime in March. Check each college website before scheduling any meetings. Start with a general info session and a tour, and drill down from there. You may have the opportunity to also book a one on one meeting, your child may be able to sit in on a class or even attend an overnight. Next, book accommodations if necessary – ask for college rates – especially in small towns. Try to make the trip a mix of research and entertainment. You will only need to add on a few extra hours to do something fun. This is forced alone time with your teen – take advantage of it and make memories. Work something fun into the calendar so they aren’t so overwhelmed with all that decision making. We love to use college trips as an opportunity to see a little bit of a place we wouldn’t otherwise visit on vacation. Lastly, don’t worry about picking the wrong school to visit. It’s a great opportunity to discover what you don’t want. For the teen who is having trouble narrowing down colleges, a list of “don’t wants” can be more useful than a list of wants.
Make the most of your visit – when you arrive on campus, leave time to hang out at the student center, have a snack in the cafeteria, visit the library, or read a school newspaper. All of these things are less stressful ways of getting a sense of the environment. It may make sense to do some of these things before the tour, so your teen can get comfortable in their surroundings and think of a few questions they might want to ask. After your campus visit, separate yourselves from the space so your teen can process. Don’t rush to get their opinions. Have him or her sit down and write first impressions in a notebook – every small detail helps, even the fact that the library had glass floors! After a while all the schools will start to blend together so little pieces of info will help separate them. After you jot down first impressions, go explore the area a little bit and do something fun!
Ask Torly Travels to help! We can organize and coordinate your list, and help you manage the complexities of coordinating visits. We can provide info on lodging, dining, transportation, logistics, and entertainment. Specific college info will be up to you.
Want help with the rest of the college process? See Abby Siegel.
Abby Siegel & Associates is a boutique independent college counseling firm that offers up-to-date college admissions counseling. Founded in 2006 by a former school-based college and school counselor, Abby makes applying to college exciting and fun for her students. The primary goals at hand are to find the colleges that are the right “fit” so students have a successful and rewarding post-secondary experience and to help reduce the anxiety and stress families feel during this time. Abby works closely with students and their families to make sure deadlines are met, goals are set and achieved, and that students are happy with and excited about the colleges they choose to attend. She offers several options that range from a One Time Consultation to a Full Package that includes assistance with every aspect of the college admissions process.