Driving back from our fourth campus tour in a snowy, rainy mix, after a long day of walking and talking and listening, as my daughter snoozed, my head pounded. A hot, itchy skin patch on my neck taunted me, and I powered through the three-plus hour drive. When I got home, I drew the shades, got into bed, and felt chills. The next day, I went to the doctor and learned that I had developed shingles. It was an extreme reaction to my daughter’s campus visit and all of the stress and emotion surrounding it that I wish on absolutely no one. So, I am always sure to tell my fellow parents and mom friends – especially those who are empaths – to go into campus visits prepared both in a pragmatic and an emotional sense. 

I found the campus visit experience to be both fun and exciting at times and stressful and exhausting at other moments. I was delighted to see my daughter’s eyes light up and imagine herself as one of the students on the quad or in the classroom, dreaming about freedom, adventure, and opportunity. At the same time, I struggled to think of her being off on her own, even though I knew she was ready for it. Contemplating the new dynamics of a household without her daily light and presence put a big lump in my throat, and the reality of the financial burden our family would soon be taking on also weighed on me. I also felt frustration at what I perceived as an inadequate amount of gratitude from my daughter for the time and effort we were dedicating as a family to her college search. Intellectually, I knew she was just doing what teenagers do: seeing and focusing only on what is right in front of them (which is most often their phone). But it still pissed me off!

My advice for parents is to make space for a range of emotions and feelings (both your teen’s and your own) and stay focused on the opportunity to bond during the campus visit fact-finding mission. We as adults know that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. But for many teens, their college choice feels like the “end-all-be-all” of their education and future life. Therefore, it can bring up a lot of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. As parents, if we can prepare ourselves for the emotional roller coaster of it all, we are more likely to be able to hold space for our teens without being overly reactive and frustrated. So manage your expectations and take some deep breaths. Be sure to print out our Campus Visit Worksheet, get your water and snacks together and strap in! Below are some practical tips to consider Before, During, and After Your Campus visits. I hope they help, and as always #KeepCalmAndCollegeOn! 

Before Your College Visit

  • Visit During Regular Semesters: To truly capture the essence of a campus, plan your visit during a regular semester when classes are in session. This ensures you get a genuine feel for the campus atmosphere.
  • Check High School Calendar: Identify days when your child’s high school is closed between September and May. Schedule college visits on these weekdays, and check your high school’s policy for missing school for such visits. 
  • Reserve in Advance: As soon as you have a date for a visit, reserve spots for tours and information sessions. Print confirmations and gather necessary information like parking passes.
  • Strategize and Plan: Create a plan based on proximity, grouping nearby schools for day trips and allocating longer breaks for visits to farther schools. If your child is a new driver, consider sharing the driving for bonding and practice.
  • Prepare for Interviews: If an admissions interview is on the agenda, encourage your child to bring relevant materials like transcripts and resumes. Tell them to come prepared with detailed questions to ask their interviewer about the school. 

The Day of Your College Visit

  • Leave Early: To avoid stress, leave early to arrive with ample time.
  • Parking Woes: Identify the admissions office and parking before the visit. Some lots fill quickly, so be prepared for alternative parking options.
  • Snack and Refuel: Take time for a snack before the visit to avoid mid-tour “hangry” moments. If possible, scope out a local restaurant and make reservations in advance so you don’t have to make more decisions when you are exhausted. 
  • Listen Carefully: Pay close attention during information sessions. Note what’s emphasized and observe the involvement of current students.
  • Stay at the Front: During tours, stay toward the front to ensure better interaction and understanding. Observe what the tour highlights and what it leaves out.
  • Let Your Child Lead: Encourage your child to check in and ask questions. Let them take the lead during the visit.
  • Tour Guide Interactions: Pay attention to how the tour guide interacts with other students. A friendly guide often reflects a positive campus culture.
  • Document the Visit: Take notes using our Campus Visit Worksheet and take photos to help recall details later. Campuses can blur together.
  • Dining Hall Experience: Eat in the dining hall. It provides valuable insights into the student experience and dietary offerings.

After Your College Visit

  • *** IMPORTANT *** Let Your Child Share Impressions First: Let your child share their thoughts after the visit. This ensures their perspective is considered before your own. It can be tempting to steer our kids toward decisions we want them to make, but one of the most significant ways for them to develop confidence is to express their own desires and pursue them. Do your best to hang back and just listen.
  • Send Thank-You Notes: If your child meets with staff or faculty, gather contact information for thank-you notes or emails (hard copy always preferable). This thoughtful gesture reinforces a positive impression.
  • Treat Yo Self: After that shingles-outbreak-inducing experience, I began booking a manicure and pedicure after each college tour weekend. In parenting, we don’t often get kudos until decades later, but we can validate ourselves in the moment with self-acknowledgment and self-care!