Photo credit:  Julie Cohn / Good Living TravelingMom

Photo credit: Julie Cohn / Good Living TravelingMom

Many, many years ago, when high school students did assignments on stone tablets, I began my college visits. Actually the only thing I searched for was a suitcase to pack my few belongings.

My high school drama teacher took a new position at a nearby college and suggested I attend. So I did. No college essays to write, no letters of recommendation extolling my bright mind and quick wit and no SAT’s to take. I filled out a paper application, paid my deposit and enrolled.  End of college search.

A whole new world opened up to us when our 18-year-old daughter Sondra began applying to colleges. Expensive glossy catalogs arrived daily, showing smiling students enjoying pizza, lounging on grassy hillsides and even riding unicycles. Who needs pictures of students studying or actually sitting in classes? We visited one ivy covered brick campus after another then finally put Sondra on a plane to do her own college visits. So far the record stands at 12 colleges receiving her application and 8 colleges accepting her so far leaving us with great confusion about which college to attend!

I’d like to share some tips for those parents tackling the college search process:

1.    Don’t take the college search so seriously, Most companies simply look for college graduates. Unless your son or daughter is destined to be a bio-nuclear, chemo-physics major, the majority of colleges will give your child a decent education.

2.    Take notes, even if your child doesn’t. It won’t take long to mix-up which college had the new gym and which had a complete TV studio for students. We visited numerous colleges in the south, all with magnolia trees, Tudor styled building and bricked courtyards. Our car drives were punctuated with arguments over which college had the triple room dorms and which had the outdated business lab, because they all blended together.

3.    Look out of the box. Encourage your teen to look at a college that may not fit their “ideal standard”. Sondra insisted she wanted to attend a college with 10,000 or more students. We got her to visit a college of 3,500 and she completely changed her mind and saw that a smaller college could fit all her needs.

4.    Don’t go on every tour. While it’s nice to visit colleges as a family, it drains both the budget and the work schedule. For Sondra’s last two college visits, we sent her from Seattle to the L.A. area to look at two colleges. Both schools were more than helpful in picking her up and getting her from place to place. If your child feels comfortable (and you do) let them try a college visit on their own.

5.    Wait.  It’s OK to hold off visiting every college. Sondra has been accepted by three colleges she’s never visited. Instead of flying off on another trip, we’ve decide to wait until her financial aid award letter arrives from each school. If the package seems promising, we’ll have her visit the campus.

6.    Rehearse. Teach your son or daughter to make eye contact and speak in full sentences! Many college visits include an interview with the admissions director. This is the time for your child to shine, especially if their grades aren’t stellar! Role play shaking hands, and looking the admissions staff directly in the eye. Rehearse answers to questions such as “What would you change about your high school experience?” Because Sondra is skilled at doing TV and radio interviews, she knew how to handle herself during admissions interviews. Two colleges accepted her after the interview even though her paperwork wasn’t complete.

7.    Relax! While it’s nice if your child attends Princeton, most students thrive in the thousands of other colleges offering.