Weekly College Column

Campus visit tips for “Rookie Parents”

If this spring break is going to be your first stroll on a college campus since your college graduation day, here are four tips to avoid some rookie-parent campus visit mistakes.

Remember, this is about your kids, not you. Your priorities for safety, class size, spacious dormitories, and nutritious food may not be exactly aligned with those of your child.

Tip #1: Keep quiet. As hard as that may be, the less you say, the more your child is likely to create their own impressions, ask their own questions, and make their own judgments. This trip is not about you reliving your college experience, it’s about identifying colleges that represent a great fit for your child. Empower your student to take control of the visit.

Tip #2: Encourage your child to be proactive.  Gently suggest that your child ask questions during the Information Session and Tour. Additionally, encourage them to initiate conversations with current students in the dining hall or in the Student Center. I always recommend that my students walk up to a group of students and ask them for five minutes of their time. There is no question this is a tough task for many high school students, but the return on the investment is well worth the effort. College students love to talk about their school; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your students will receive some honest feedback on what current students like and what they don’t like about their school. If the chat reveals that everyone is amid transfer applications because the academics have been disappointing; well then, you’ve learned an awful lot that you would never have heard from anyone in the admissions office.

Remember that you need to take all the information you receive with a grain of salt. It is the admissions office’s mission to make you want to apply; consequently, they are only going to share their accolades and their strengths and yes, the tour guides are truly college cheerleaders in disguise.

Tip # 3: Get lost. Get off the beaten path. Try and visit a dorm room that wasn’t on the tour. Say “hi” to students passing by to see how friendly the campus is. Ask for directions. Check out different facilities on campus: the theatre, recreation center, science laboratories, dining halls, etc.

Don’t forget to tour the surrounding area. How far do you need to travel for that late-night pizza or that missing shower cap? What’s within walking distance and how accessible are movie theatres, restaurants, and cultural opportunities?

Tip # 4: Have everybody jot down their thoughts. This task is especially helpful if you plan to see multiple colleges over several days. It’s very hard to remember which one had the gorgeous fountains or the brand-new dorms. But, even more importantly, ask your child to record their impressions of how well they think they’d fit in at each school, both academically and socially. Can they visualize themselves on that campus? That’s key.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.com; www.bierercollegeconsulting.com


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