Spring College Tours: tips for parents

My sister just came back from touring a college campus with her son. It wasn’t a school he originally had given consideration. They did the tour while classes were in session and advised I do the same in the future. Her son was able to talk to students and get a better sense of what the college had to offer.

Parents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over the next few months to visit colleges of interest to their teenagers. While families can get a tremendous amount of valuable college information online, even in today’s Internet age, there’s no substitute for an in-person visit to get a true feel for an institution, its campus and its students.
How do you make the most out of a campus tour?  Here are 10 tips from Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning:

Cast a Wide Net–If you and your teenager haven’t already done so, start by putting together a long list of potential schools of interest—up to 20 schools—for further investigation and research. Carefully consider a wide range of selection criteria, such as, geographic location, rural/suburban/urban campus setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic strengths and offerings, tuition, tuition assistance and athletic programs, among others. Include a range of “dream,” “target” (strong odds of acceptance based on your teen’s SAT and/or ACT scores, grade point average (GPA), and “safety” schools.
Finalize Your  List–Once you have your initial pool of targets, narrow down that list to a realistic number of schools to visit. Fine tuning your list is a task that can easily be accomplished by visiting schools’ Web sites, reviewing college guides from the library or bookstore and, working with a guidance counselor. Other students, friends and family members can also offer insights. 
Get SAT/ACT Test Prep Support –If you remove a school from your teen’s final target list because his or her SAT or ACT test scores aren’t in that school’s typical accepted student range—or you’re afraid they won’t be—consider obtaining SAT/ACT test prep support.

Visit While College is in Session – Every family’s final “visit” list of schools is different; some travel to 12 or more campuses while others only visit a handful. Based on the geography of your target tour list, you may, in fact, wind up making a few road trips—perhaps one over spring break and then one or two long weekend treks. Regardless of how many campuses you visit, make sure to schedule your visits while college is in session. Don’t visit during midterms or finals and avoid weekend visits if at all possible, since classes are seldom held then. Be sure to call ahead and check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visit/interview policies. If spring proves problematic because your target schools have spring break the same week your teen does, fall of senior year is also an ideal time to visit. 
Remember the 2/2/2 Rule–Two schools a day. Don’t try to visit more than two schools a day, especially if the schools aren’t close to one another. Any more than that and you’ll never have enough time to really get a fair sense of the school.

Two question limit. Given that most teens find their parents embarrassing under any circumstances, they are especially sensitive to mom or dad asking numerous questions on the campus tour. Try to limit your questions to two vital topics. For example, focus on safety and financial aid.

Speak with at least two professors or students representing your teen’s intended major. Now is your—and your teenager’s—time to determine if this learning environment is right for your family. Ask a student, “Do you find your advisor helpful? Which outstanding professors or courses does she recommend for that specific major?” Speak to a professor about general education requirements, which classes are most popular and fill up quickly, and which classes should be completed in the first year. 
Schedule Smart–Be sure to make long trips efficient by planning several visits along the route. Figure out driving distances between schools so you and your teenager can determine which schools to visit on the same day. When you have a tentative itinerary, you and your child can begin calling colleges to schedule the visits. Be sure to reserve in advance for official campus tours and/or interviews with the admissions office, coaches, or professors. Make your appointment calls at least two weeks in advance of your target visit date.
Ask Questions –Encourage your teen to ask as many questions as possible–and ask different people the same questions to see if you get different answers. In addition to the official tour guide, speak with students, professors, librarians, or other representatives based on topics of interest to your student.
Go Beyond the Official Campus Tour –Official campus tours are almost always 30–60 minute, student-led affairs that provide a good, basic overview of the college, its facilities, academic offerings and student life. They’re a good place to start, but by doing a little advanced homework, your family can round out your visit with other campus experiences that can help you and your teen get the “inside skinny” on the school. If any family members, friends, or recent graduates of your teen’s school are enrolled, have coffee or meet with him or her. 

Eat on Campus –What teenager doesn’t place a high priority on food? Most schools allow visitors to eat on campus. If you need overnight lodging, consider allowing your teenager to stay in a dorm. Even if you don’t know a student with whom your child can stay, many schools will arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student—if you call in advance. Parents will save money by only paying for one hotel room (or booking a smaller room) and the prospective student will gain an invaluable chance to experience dorm life.
Create a Photo Diary –Believe it or not, once your family arrives home from your college tour road trip, all those campuses may start to blur together—especially if you visit numerous schools. Use your digital camera to take a lot of photos—and even videos—during your visits to create a record of each school. Your first photo of each school should show the college name on a sign or building to ensure you remember which school you visited. You and your teen can create an online folder for each school or print out the photos and keep them in folders with the other informational material you’ll pick up on your visits.
For additional assistance with helping your teenager prepare for college, attend a free, interactive seminar—”Test Stress: A Parent’s Real Guide to College Test Prep”—to obtain advice from leading college admissions experts that will help you develop action plans to ensure your student is college ready. Visit www.SylvanLearning.com for seminar details.

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