(or lessons from the college road trip trenches).

This spring break my son and I traveled to Washington, DC and visited three schools.  He also had the chance to visit two schools in New York before we left for on our trip.  We had a lot of fun together weighing the pluses and minuses of schools, learning a lot about rap music (me), and hearing a lot about what college was like in the 1980s (him). It also was clear to me that visiting and talking about colleges with your own student is not the same as doing it with or for student clients.  You cannot be objective when it is your own kid but together we have some advice as you head out on your own college road trips.

The tours and information sessions are certainly valuable but nothing can top speaking with a current student at the school you are visiting. If you have any connections (son or daughter of your mom’s third cousin’s chiropractor, perhaps?) have your student reach out to set up a time to meet for a coffee after the tour.  While my son spoke with students, I would find lunch or walk around campus.  These opportunities made a big difference in perspective and interest in the school.

We recommend writing down questions that you might have before the visit so you won’t forget. These are for the information session:

  • What is the graduation rate?
  • What is the percentage of graduates that are either in graduate school or employed in a job that matches their area of study 3-6 months after graduation?
  • Are all majors open or do students have to be accepted specifically into a certain program?
  • Can students easily change among majors?
  • What are the meal plans like?
  • What is there to do on campus on the weekend? Is there a big commuter population?
  • What about the dorms?  Do first year students have a traditional living situation or do they live in apartments or suites? Do you have to clean your own bathroom?  If so, will you clean it?  Ever?
  • What is included in the cost (and remember the cost is more than just tuition)?  Some schools charge you for printing, laundry, and other necessities.  Others include give you a set amount of printing/laundry etc. each semester and others include this cost in your fees.

When you finished the visit here are some thoughts to consider:

  • The campus vibe. What did it feel like to walk around?
  • Did you see students, activities, clubs, academics that were appealing?  If so, what were they?
  • What did the admissions rep tell you in the information session that interested you?  What did she or he say that was not appealing?  Why and/or why not?
  • Was the tour guide friendly and knowledgeable?  Did the guide share what she or he loved about her/his major?  About the school? What clubs, internships, etc. she or he is involved in?

Write this all down, take pictures, and/or take a quick video outlining what you loved, hated, or otherwise want to remember about the school.  A spreadsheet can help you organize all of your schools.  List the school qualities so that down the road the information is still at your fingertips. Here are some column headings that work for us:

School Name
Date and Day of Visit
School is session during your visit?
Academic Scholarships available?
Financial Aid available?
Student life
Added costs
Would you visit again?

This will help you keep the details straight. Remember, you could find yourself visiting five schools in five days!

Photo by Emlyn Stokes on Flickr Creative Commons License Photo used as is.  No changes made