The youngest would say occasionally that “time flies on a jet plane.” No truer words have ever been spoken. We are now on our third round of college tours. In fact, we began taking the kids on college tours when they were much smaller; truth be told, they might not have even known entirely what a college was. At that point, our intent was not to make a specific selection, but to instill in them a vision for more, for higher, for better.
Once we began to get serious about where the kids might call a home-away-from-home, however, the selection process became more intense. In the past, I have shared our trips to various colleges. But I thought, given the angst for so many when it comes to that homeschool-to-college transition, I might be of more help if I list some tips on maximizing the college tour experience.
Because of the amount of monies colleges will not blink an eye at asking for, I have come to the conclusion that there is a right and a, um, less than ideal, shall we say, way to take in a college or university. The key is to have your own plan. Why do I say that? Because every school will present its best students, its newest buildings, and the dorm with the most modern amenities. Every college works hard to present itself as diverse, whether it is or not.
Size matters. In my original post about preparing for college as a middle or high schooler, I listed, in no particular order, a set of questions that are still valid inquiries while you are out and about with the campus representative. But I confess: this old gray mare is not what she used to be. Asking questions? I was just glad for the occasional sit-down as we walked a country mile! But, as I walked, I made myself take notes—primarily of the humongous size and the very urban location. When our oldest visited urban campuses, she found the big city intimidating. In the true spirit of gifts differing, our youngest was totally excited about being in the midst of downtown. But size does indeed matter—of the campus and the area around it.
Be safe and secure. In light of recent events, I could write a separate blog post on campus security and protection from predators. I have learned since our earliest visits to look for what systems are present to help students maneuver about the campus, especially after traditional class hours. This was critical for both our daughter, a fashion major, who used design labs heavily in the evenings, and our son, a dance major, who had evening rehearsals, often ending late, late at night. Would either be safe walking back to his/her dorm alone? Are there emergency call boxes/ safe rides/ escorts, etc., if they ran into danger along the way? Are there places where they can get a meal after cafeteria hours? Also, because of a rash in both racially motivated and sexually motivated acts, it is especially critical that we look at what colleges and universities are doing to prevent these incidents from more than one lens.
The devil’s in the details. Speaking of different views, it is okay to ask for more—more from the school, that is, in terms of the tour. In addition to the standard tour that everyone takes, we requested a tour of the specific department in which she would spend the majority of her time. Sometimes schools have reputations for excellence in one field, but they might also have hidden secrets in terms of their studies in other areas. We left the school with much to talk about in terms of majors, minors, concentrations, timing, and a host of other thoughts to be pondered over these last couple of years.
Networking. The kids continue to surprise me. I thought the oldest would stay close to home; if things remain the same, she might be the one who went the farthest away. The youngest, whom I thought might find a college on the outer reaches of the galaxy, wants to be close to home. One advantage of considering an in-state school is that we know many students who have gone before. Again, this lends different perspectives beyond the generic tour. And with the beauty of social media in this all-access era, a friend’s take on the school is without all the photo staging of a college media department.
Tour discriminately. Finally, tours only make sense when you have narrowed your choices. Technology can be a friend when monies, time, and/or energy is low. Registering on collegeboard.com , a free service for college-bound students, is a wise decision for a number of reasons. One of those is that several campuses offer virtual tours—a significant benefit when monies do not allow you to take advantage of travel, or when every school is not a top priority. Schools also host Q and A sessions such that attendees can ask questions and get a different perspective as the host might be some combination of an administrator and a student.
Where might she find a home in the next few years? At this point, we are far from sure, but I can say with assurance that these waters are a lot less murky than they were almost ten years ago.
P.S. Strongly consider eating in the campus cafeteria if allowed. With the mounting number of food allergies and nutritional concerns regarding institutional foods, your family can get a first-hand experience in terms of options as well as limitations. Does the school offer foods that your child can eat, and are those foods available when your child needs them? Do not be afraid to ask an adult if those answers are not immediately available.
Enjoy the tour!