Campus Visit, Conquered: See Colleges and Leave Stress at Home
After months of studying, test prep, and researching colleges, you are finally ready to go on a campus visit. It's normal for you to want to make the most of the opportunity.
However, it's also typical to have some stress over visiting schools, whether you are a student or a parent. You may be unsure of what you should do and when you should do it, nervous about the impression you are making, or concerned about being able to fit everything into the time you have available.
Telling a driven high school student not to worry about a campus visit is like telling a shaken-up soda not to foam. It's just natural to feel under pressure. The aim is to find ways to reduce that stress. Here are three principles that can help you achieve this goal.
Whether you are going on one campus visit or ten, planning matters (Not sure where to start? The College Visit page helps you find the best resources for where you are now in your search. Plus, our College Trip Planner makes it easy to put together an itinerary!)
By planning ahead, you can…
- Know which colleges you want to visit and the activities you want to do while on campus. This lets you get the most out of your time at each location. It also takes away the anxiety of having to research and organize your trip when you're already on the road.
- Register for activities in advance (when colleges provide this option.) If you sign up beforehand for a university tour, you won't be stressed that you are going to miss your only chance to see the school.
- Create room for delays and personal time. Somewhere along the way, you may face heavy traffic, construction detours, or bad weather. You will also need to give yourself time to eat, sleep, and think through your campus visit experiences. Planning your itinerary and expecting these concerns reduces the chance that you'll be rushing from place to place. It also helps you present your best self to the admissions staff.
A great plan creates room for adaptation. If you know everything you really want to do on a campus visit, you can change the parts of your schedule that are less of a priority along the way. For example, you may decide to push other activities to later in the day if your college interview has left you drained.
Being flexible lessens the anxiety that comes with feeling as though you "must" do something even if you are physically or mentally unready to handle the task. It gives you a chance to recharge with food, sleep, or good conversation. In other words, it helps your campus visit be the fantastic experience that it should be.
If students and parents are on a campus visit together, they get a lot of advantages. Students benefit from the expertise of their parents, who may have more experience in college search issues and travel. Parents get an opportunity to understand their student's goals, interests, and challenges in applying to schools. Both have someone to talk to about their experiences visiting universities.
However, campus visits are the culmination of a lot of planning, time, and effort. That puts a lot of pressure on students and parents, and where there's pressure, there can also be miscommunication and arguments. To address this problem, we recommend...
- Consider what you want from your parents during college visits. Is it advice about schools to see? Suggestions about how much time to spend on campus? Once you know what you want—and don't want—ask your parent for it politely and clearly. Giving guidance can help you avoid feeling like your parent is intruding on your space.
- Be understanding of your parents' concerns. If you want to go out independently while visiting campus, discuss what you are planning to do. Be open to showing your parents how you will be safe and in contact with them when you aren't together.
- Appreciate the benefits. Having a parent with you can make campus visits more meaningful, give you someone to ask for advice, and provide you with a partner in your travels. Remember: with the time and energy they have committed to your education, they want you to have an incredible experience, too.
- Take cues from your student about what they need from you. A campus visit is meant to let students experience college and represent themselves to the admissions office. Allow them the chance to be independent in this process.
- Talk with your student if you have concerns about certain activities. Set boundaries that are fair, that give your student room to explore the college, and that keep him or her safe.
- Be the support instead of the stress. Likely, you have high hopes and expectations for your student's campus visit experience. Avoid letting this excitement turn into pressure to make decisions that aren't a fit for his or her personality or interests. Also, recognize when the trip schedule has become too overwhelming to maintain, and create time for students to recuperate.
By committing to planning, flexibility, and communication, both students and parents can make a campus visit what it should be: one of the most important, memorable experiences of the college search.