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Making College Visits Fun

March and April are busy months for college visits. High school students are simultaneously excited and nervous about visiting colleges and universities. Some are just starting their journey as sophomores and juniors going on their first set of college tours. Others who are further along in the process as seniors are going to Accepted Students Days. After all their hard work, high school seniors finally have the acceptances in hand and have until May 1st to make their final decision on where they will attend in the fall.

The tables are turned during these days, especially for the accepted students. These students are in the driver’s seat evaluating and inspecting each college from the moment they arrive on campus. Your kids are asking tough questions of the faculty, admissions and current students. They are attending a class, meeting with coaches, and receiving “free” gifts throughout the day to win them over. Colleges are rolling out the red carpet for accepted students and their families because their goal is to have your student ‘buy the sweatshirt’ and for you the parents to leave a deposit for the fall.

Do you have a funny college visit story?  

Looking back to when we visited prospective colleges with our own parents or more recently taken our own kids to visit colleges, inevitably there are stories to be told. These college trips tend to leave their mark and are the source of great fodder for family gatherings down the road. We all have a “Griswold” story we can tell about how our parents or siblings embarrassed us at some point during a college visit.

I remember one college visit when my mom asked a TON of questions during the tour. I was mortified and dropped to the back of the tour group to hide. I learned early on what not to do during a college tour. I also learned that sometimes we make decisions about schools that may or may not make logical sense, but it all comes down to our gut feelings about our experience at the school. A good friend recalled one summer traveling cross country with her family in July while her daughter was looking at schools. They stopped along the way at a small college in Ohio. As soon as her daughter stepped out of the car, she was attacked by a swarm of mosquitos. The insects stayed with her and her brothers the entire hour they spent walking around campus. They could not wait to get back to their car and drive away. There was nothing my friend could say to change her daughter ’s mind about that school. She was not applying.

Recently I talked with Lisa Winkler, a former English teacher, author, and college essay writing coach who shared her story about one of her more entertaining college visits with her children.

Finding Humor in College Visits

By Lisa Winkler

Spring break. A time when many families undertake the tradition of visiting colleges with their high school seniors. Granted, there’s a lot of preparation. Travel arrangements. Restaurants. Packing. Selecting schools. How many can be crammed into one visit? What makes our child happy? Where will they fit in?

However, these visits can be fun and can create humorous memories like any other family vacation. Trust me. I sent three children to college. As the parents of three, (high school graduation years 2003, 2005, 2009), each experience was different and gave us a chance to learn about each child in ways we never may have.

The Family Road Trip

With our first, we all went. More accustomed to getting on planes to ski, hike, or snorkel, taking a car trip seemed ominous. It had been years since we strapped them in, tossed pretzels and juice boxes into the backseat, and drove off on a long trip. Our eldest wanted a “school where I can walk and read and not worry about traffic.” The destination was Boston with a side trip to visit relatives in Connecticut for lunch with the intent to arrive in Boston by dinner.

Explore the Surrounding Areas

Once in Boston, we spent a day sightseeing: the Freedom Trail, the JFK Library and touring the city. The next day we headed for the college campuses. And this is where the fun began.

What our Children Want to See on a College Visit versus What Parents Want to See

We realized what appealed to us didn’t necessarily appeal to them. We liked trees, libraries, architecture. They liked: food descriptions, visiting dorm rooms, reading bulletin boards. Both the tours and the information sessions provided fodder for learning what our children liked and what they didn’t. Sometimes the tour guide alone would be a reason to drive away. One: they didn’t like her accent. One couldn’t walk backwards and talk well at the same time.

Campus Tours

The physical campus also influenced how fast we returned to the car. Lawns, closed for reseeding, didn’t seem a reason to reject an otherwise reputable college. But that meant one couldn’t laze on the grass. Other critiques: Too suburban. Too urban. Too rural. Too much construction even though the construction would be completed by the time our child would be enrolled.

What Students Focus on During the College Visits

Pungent aromas of dirty laundry emanating from a dorm room turned them off. This from two high school wrestlers accustomed to rolling around on sticky mats, entangled with other teenage boys, exchanging body fluids. Too preppy. Too hippy.

Enjoying the Moment with Your Child

Yet we managed to laugh at the situation.  Our best times were spent wandering around, skipping the information sessions, inventing absurd supplemental application questions as we walked. Example: “You’re given a chisel and a stone, what do you carve?”.  We made up literal and rhetorical answers.

Let Your Child Lead the Way

Sometimes it’s beneficial to allow your child to go alone. Our eldest went for a college interview by train outside Philadelphia. He fell in love with the school because he overheard someone chanting the “One Ring” chorus from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. That clinched it for him!

How to Make College Visits Fun

Don’t dread the college tour!  Take in the local sites, wander neighborhoods and the campus. Talk to students. Eat like locals.  Have fun!

College Scoops thanks Lisa Winkler for her college visit story!

We look forward to hearing from our other readers as we all go through a busy season of college visits. The more feedback we receive and share, the better we all get at making meaningful, fun, memorable, and tasty college visits with our kids. Our goal is to make college trips easy and fun having confidence in where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and what not to miss while visiting colleges. If you have a story to tell, send us an email and remember to take us along when you go on your next college visit! #collegescoops.  

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