VTaug09As a mother of a teenager, I’ve entered that final stage of parenting a minor – helping my child make the best choice for life after high school.

For many, that means guiding the child through college selection process. For us, it means doing that as well as planning family travel to visit selected colleges. Having worked with college admissions offices for many years, I know a lot about how schools select students. Now, as a parent, I’m discovering what it’s like to be on the other side of the desk.

In almost every piece of college admissions marketing materials, whether in print, on the Web or in a video posted on YouTube, the message is clear: “come visit.” Sounds simple enough, but once you start looking for all the information you need to plan your visit, you quickly discover that how information regarding the “what,” “when” and “where” about visiting varies greatly from school to school. 

Many of the parents I’ve interviewed about their college visits treated them as family travel adventures. My first college visit as a parent certainly fits the “adventure” category. It took place this summer when another mom (Lisa) and I decided to take our kids to visit a large, state university. We made this decision on a whim, with no real forethought, hoping that one day, when our sons are older, they might be interested in this school (I already knew this school held no interest for my teen-aged daughter ).

Visiting this school was a local trip for me and about a 3-hour drive for Lisa. She turned it into an overnight family trip. Her entourage included her son and daughter, plus a friend of the son’s. Add my two, and the ages our collective brood ranged from 8 to 16. Needless to say, we had a super-charged, high-energy group with a varying levels of interest and patience.

Our day on campus began with an information session in an auditorium. Knowing the boys might become restless with an hour of sitting ahead of them, we chose seats off-center so as not to disturb the majority seated in the center rows. We came prepared with notepads, pens, gum and mints, hoping to keep the activity level in our rows at a minimum. Our strategy worked, but we were thankful the session did not go much longer than an hour.

Next came the walking tour of campus. The boys were thrilled to stretch their legs, jump down the outside steps, which, because they are boys, quickly turned into a contest. We were smart to stay at the back of the line. Once we started walking, everyone fell into place and the tour guide impressed us with her ability to talk while walking backwards around the campus.

Like so many schools, most of the buildings were old and majestic. The campus was large and beautiful. The tiny the dorm room, however, was a surprising contrast to the outside physical attributes of the campus. The kids thought it cool that you could put a dresser in the closet and that there was a sink the bedroom.

The tour guide was the only student we spoke with while on campus. Turns out, we had scheduled our visit during the summer session break before the fall semester begins. Classes were not in session and the campus was very quiet. Visiting a college is not really quite as easy as it seems. If you have clear cut goals and objectives for your visit, then planning is a must. I came away with a whole list of “dos and don’ts”  for the next college visit we plan and thankful for the “test drive” this first visit provided us. We’ll be smarter next time around.