College visits are a rite of passage for parents and their kids. At Traveling Mom “We’ve been there” and have gleaned many tips from being in the trenches. After countless tours of duty on the college touring front, here are our survival tips for making the most of college tours.
Disclosure: This post was inspired by the Upromise Mastercard. Thanks to Barclays for facilitating my research.
I have a sophomore in high school. You know what that means: It’s time to start thinking about college tours! I’ll admit I’m not ready for my baby to leave the nest, but I know it’s coming faster than you can say “tuition.” Fortunately, I’ve got the Traveling Moms to lean on for hard-earned lessons. Here’s what they have to share.
Survival Tips for College Tours
Kim Orlando, the original Traveling Mom, has three tours of duty under her belt. She says, “College touring has been essential in the college choice process for my kids. It’s like lightning strikes when they find the school that feels right. They are usually surprised that the schools they thought would be their ultimate choice often get pushed down their list.”
1. College Visits Are Vital. Here’s Why.
Cindy Richards, Traveling Mom editor and veteran of the college wars, shares some sage advice. “For the first visit, choose 3 that provide a broad overview of the types of schools available–a tiny private school, a mid-size private school, a big public university. That will give the kids a good overview of the wide range of options they have for schools. Once they decide they like small, medium or big, you can start to narrow your search and spend the majority of your time looking at schools in that group.”
Andrea Guthman, Midwest Traveling Mom, adds, “Your children might think they love the idea of a city campus, but are then struck by the bucolic setting of another. They might think they wanted a Big Ten college, but then discover a smaller school is more to their liking. Visiting college campuses can help teenagers, and their parents, make sense of a complicated and costly decision.”
2. Timing Matters.
Ideally, you want your teen to see the school as they would on a normal day. Summer vacation may be most convenient for you, but campus will likely be deserted. Look at the college’s schedule as well as your own. Spring break could be a good time to visit if the college is not on break at the same time as your child’s high school. Teacher in-service days could be a great option for an extended weekend when college is in session. Also, be sure to check campus tour times BEFORE booking flights. Tours are not offered every day.
3. Reserve Your Campus Tours Immediately After Booking Your Flight.
Then, enter the confirmation codes into your calendar. You will need those to make changes and to check in. We recommend reserving your college tours at least 60 days in advance so that tours are not booked by the time you arrive.
4. Consider Financial Aid.
In addition to the admissions office sponsored tour, you might also want to book an appointment with the financial aid office. Learning what options are available to your family could make a huge difference when the time comes to choose a college.
If you’re like me, figuring out how you’re going to pay for college is high on your list of priorities. I recently learned about a really cool way to add to the college coffers: the Upromise Mastercard. The Upromise not only earns 1.25 percent cash back on purchases, it offers a 15 percent bonus if you direct your earnings to a 529 college savings account.
Even better, the Upromise Mastercard has this really cool “round-up” feature where you can send the change from your purchases directly to junior’s college fund. I’m all about no-brainer ways to save! As I tell my kids, every little bit adds up.
5. Make a Vacation of Your College Visits.
College visits are also an opportunity to travel and see places you and your family may not have visited before. Although you’ve traveled to see the college/university, don’t overlook the surrounding areas and communities. Offer the kids 3 local activities to prioritize: attractions, food, and outdoor activity.
Even better, tack on a college visit or two to your vacation. You can do this even earlier, especially if you just want your kids to get a feel for the college as opposed to an official tour. Andrea Guthman recommends, “Heading to Boston for business? Bring along your kid to the see the city and a couple of schools. Visiting the grandparents in Arizona? Visit Tempe, home to Arizona State University, the largest university in the United States, with more than 70,000 students.”
Catherine Parker, National Parks Traveling Mom, also likes the idea of making college visits less stressful by “starting early and touring schools in bite-sized spurts. Doing so made her college shopping in California fun as opposed to a chore for both her and her teen.
6. Get a Feel for Campus Life
If you’re there during football or basketball season, be sure to check out a game. Dine on campus, and also off-campus. Every college has a well-known hangout: be it the Penn State Creamery or Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
7. Pack Light and Pack Rain Gear.
You will be moving fast and packing light means you won’t have to drag a heavy bag with you. Campus tours do not cancel for rain. And remind the kids to pack for rain (it’s easy to pack perfectly for yourself but forget to remind your traveling buddies).
8. Treat Yourself.
College touring can be exhausting. Be sure to incorporate some moments to relax and regroup. Treat yourself to a spa treatment. Enjoy a long scenic walk. Have a leisurely dinner in a local spot (no chain restaurant). Do something that feeds you emotionally because this is already an emotional journey.
And Finally…Remember That Each Kid is Different.
Don’t expect that what worked for kid #1 will work for the rest of the tribe. Kim Orlando can relate, “my eldest was all about business school and focused on getting into the highest ranked college that would accept him. My daughter looked for sun and fun. My youngest son looked for science so he had an ambitious list of big schools he wanted to tour.
The Traveling Mom tribe’s sage advice is helping me fear the college visit process less than I did before asking for help. I hope our tips can help you newbies, too, and I encourage the veterans to share your hard-earned advice for college visits in the comments. This mom will thank you!