It may have been a while since you’ve been on a college campus. For your child, they may never have been to a college outside a sporting event or musical competition. Visiting colleges is an integral part of the college process as your student will learn about academics, become familiar with physical layouts, and ultimately develop personal preferences for their post-secondary destination. Here are a few tips to planning a successful college road trip.
Get Your Student Involved
Allow your student to be part of the planning process. Encourage them to go online, research programs, locations, etc. Each and everyone one of us has our set of preferences. While you may think your student will like XYZ university, they may be interested in seeing something very different. By allowing your student to have input into the process, you will gain their buy-in, which will ultimately lead to a more worthwhile trip!
Determine Geographic Location
Is your family planning a vacation and are college visits a part of the trip? Or are you planning a college visit trip during a vacation? How many days do you have? Depending on how you answer these questions your trip can vary drastically. If you are planning a family vacation, then your geographic area and range of colleges to see is already pretty settled. If you opt for the second trip, you may choose to travel closer to home, while gradually viewing colleges farther and farther away. It is also worth considering taking a trip with two different routes (one heading out, and one returning) where there is no overlap, so as to capitalize on the colleges in the area. With over four thousand colleges in the U.S. the possibilities of your trip are endless.
Choose a Mix of Colleges
Colleges vary significantly in both size and location. Smaller colleges can have less than 2,500 undergraduate students, while larger colleges can have over 30,000 undergraduates. Similarly, some colleges are located in very rural areas, operating as their own community and culture, while other colleges exist in densely populated urban areas with shops, businesses, and restaurants. As you begin to develop preferences for your college list, visit a variety of schools to see what you like and what you don’t like. Remember, while you may not have significant interest in a particular college, you can still develop preferences (both positive and negative) from that same college.
Visit When the Campus is Alive
While it may only be possible to coordinate campus visits in the summertime, there are drawbacks to that approach. In the summer, you may see campuses under construction, or possibly in the best possible conditions of the year. For instance, if you visit the northeast in the summer, you may have a beautiful sunny, eighty degree day- but it is important to remember that the majority of the school year will take place during the winter months. Additionally, during the summer, while there are some students taking courses, the true campus is alive from September to May. Take advantage of being on campus when school is in session, talk to current students, picture yourself on the quad.
It is important to plan in advance for your college road trip. With college tours filling up quickly, plan to book at least one month ahead of your trip. In addition, when looking for accommodations, pick places to stay within a short distance of your next college visit. Waking up and having to drive a significant distance before a visit may have a negative impact on the visit itself. Also, it is recommended to see a maximum of TWO colleges in one day. While you may opt to drive through an additional campus as an unofficial visit, two tours in one day is plenty and will allow you to get the most out of your experience.
As you head off on your college road trip, work to make it a fun, information gathering, bonding experience for you and your child. You are a team throughout this process. Ask questions, listen, and grow together throughout the journey.