As a parent, there are certain exciting and sometimes equally terrifying milestones in your child’s life. Learning how to drive is one of those milestones, as is going away to college.
When your teen is preparing to get their license, you may play an active role in helping them not just learn how to drive but study for their licensing test as well. When your teen is preparing to take the SATs or ACTs you might help with their studying too. Then, it’s time to start thinking about colleges, which often means college visits.
As a parent, what should your role in college visits be, and how can you ensure your child makes the most of this time?
A lot of making the most out of a college visit happens before you ever actually hit the campus. Both you and your teen should work on learning more about the school and the campus.
You want to find out more about the faculty by looking at bios and perhaps explore some first-year course descriptions. You may be able to sit in on a class or two, so you want to choose ones that are going to be most relevant to your teen.
You also want to be proactive with your college visits, so try and go before your teen’s senior year, if possible.
The fall of junior year or even sooner can be ideal.
As you’re preparing, work with your teen on a list of sites that you don’t want to miss not only on campus but also off-campus.
What If the School Isn’t Within Driving Distance?
If your teen wants to visit a school or multiple schools that you have to fly to, it can be a bit more challenging. If money is an issue as far as paying for airline tickets, there are a few options you have.
One option is to do a virtual tour, which can be a great way to at least narrow down your teen’s list of colleges so maybe you have two that you ultimately visit rather than let’s say five.
Even if flying isn’t an issue, doing virtual tours before you go to a campus visit can help you learn more about the campus and figure out what you want to explore while you’re there.
Another option is to explore fly-in programs. Students can apply for these programs, and they’re especially geared toward high-achieving and underrepresented students. The visits usually occur in either the spring of students’ junior year or the fall of their senior year.
During this time, your teen will actually stay with a current student in most cases and participate in programs and also eat in the dining hall for free during their time.
You could also plan a family vacation around campus tours so that you’re only buying one set of plane tickets.
Talk To Students on Campus
When you go on a campus tour, you’ll work with a tour guide who is a student in most cases, and of course, it’s their job to sell you and your teen on why their school is the best.
To get a comprehensive feel for culture and what day-to-day life is like on campus, you should also make an effort to talk to other students outside of the admissions representatives and student ambassadors.
A good place to do this is in the dining hall. Students will be more casual and relaxed and you can learn more about the atmosphere outside of academics.
Along with talking to students, look at other cultural considerations. Is there a strong Greek life on campus, for example? What about sporting events? How do most students spend their free time?
Let Your Child Take the Lead
As a parent, we may have a natural tendency to want to do everything for our child, but with college visits, it’s important they take the lead. Things we like about a campus might not be as appealing to them, or they may like things that we wouldn’t necessarily think about.
No matter what you like or don’t like about a campus, it’s your child who’s ultimately going to live there.
You can voice opinions and help your teen make notes during a visit, but don’t take complete charge.
Ask About Campus Safety
Campus safety can be a top priority for most parents, so don’t forget about talking about this important topic on your tours.
You should ask tour guides about formal policies regarding campus safety and the history of incidents on campus. You might also want to think about the safety of the surrounding neighborhood, town, or city where the school is located.
Find Out More About Financials
Something else you can do while you’re on campus is learning about financial aid options. The campuses you visit will have a financial aid office and you can learn more about opportunities, how much school will cost, whether there are opportunities to work on campus and other things related to the financials.
It can be helpful to sit down, in-person with someone from the financial aid department to learn more about these topics.
Take Pictures and Videos
While as a parent, you do want your teen to be driving the bus, so to speak, during their campus visits, there are things you can do to help. One is documenting important things on campus with photos and videos.
You can take on this task so your teen can focus on being present and then later, as you’re making important decisions you can refer back to the photos and videos to refresh your memories on things you might have forgotten.
Finally, know when it’s time to walk away from a school.
There may be a school you have your heart set on for any reason. Perhaps it’s your alma mater as an example. However, if you visit the school and your child isn’t interested, you have to know when it’s time to give up on this particular school.