College Tips For Parents on Campus Visits (Part 1 of 2)
As a mom or dad of a college-bound teen, you face a lot of challenges. Late nights helping with studies, parent-teacher conferences, driving to and from extracurricular activities: you do it all. Now comes the fun part. You're on your way to go see campus.
In this article—Part 1 of 2—we offer college tips for parents who are making campus visits with their teenagers. We describe the questions many parents have and the steps they take to help their college-bound children. Part 2 of the article focuses on advice from parents for parents. Special thanks to the great moms and dads who contributed to both pieces; their reflections provided a lot of insight.
Ready to get started? Read on for our college tips for parents.
Factors That Matter
Most parents want the same thing as their children: a college that will fulfill the student socially, intellectually, and emotionally. However, you have other concerns that weigh just as heavily; we describe a few of them below.
It is great for you to learn more about these issues, but your teen may feel embarrassed if you take the lead in questioning tour guides or college staff about them. Help your student to recognize these concerns before you go on your campus visits.
Encourage him or her to ask important questions while at the schools and to share information with you. Or, explain in advance why you would like to ask questions yourself. Having this conversation before you arrive on campus can help you avoid arguments.
What factors did our parent contributors say matter most?
Safety: Obviously, the number one concern is the security of their children. Our college tips for parents? When you visit campus,
- Speak with the college's Student Affairs office. It may be able to provide information about crime and safety measures.
- Learn about university shuttle services and transportation on and off campus. If your student will bring a car to school, find out about parking near classes at night.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, take a look at the surrounding neighborhood. While on-campus security may be tight, you will want to know how well the area is patrolled, especially if your student will be living or socializing off campus.
Convenience: There may be a number of services and resources that your child has at home and that a college may not provide. For example:
- In-room cable television and telephone lines.
- Refrigerator space, an oven range, and a washing machine on-site.
- Area grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, and medical providers.
- Nearby shopping, entertainment, and public transportation.
Look for these types of conveniences when visiting the college. They may not be the most important factor to your teen, but they could impact your budget and your packing list. Also, having nearby services can make a difference if your student is not going to have a car at school.
Cost: When visiting campus, one college tip for parents is that they learn about the true price of attendance. Tuition is only one part of the bill. Academic materials, living costs, and campus services have an impact as well.
If these costs are an issue for your family, encourage your student to learn about merit- and need-based financial aid. Also, admissions offices and financial aid offices may have estimates of costs other than tuition that you can expect to pay.
Your Role in the College Trip
Visiting colleges is an exciting time for both students and parents. However, if this is your first outing, you may not be sure of the best way in which to help your teen. Our college tips for parents:
Look for qualities that make the school a great match. Teens who are just beginning the college search may not know what they want from a school. More experienced students may have a set of criteria in mind. In either case, you can help find ways in which the college is a fit, whether it's a student club or an academic program that is perfect for your teen's interests.
Support the student's exploration. When our contributors offered their college tips for parents, many said that the qualities that matter to a high school student may change.
- Someone who is looking for a school with a fraternity system may decide not to pledge.
- A teen who doesn't care about sports may become the most avid football fan at the stadium.
- A student who is passionate about a high school activity may decide to try something else out in college.
That's why it is important to let your child experience campus without too much steering on your behalf. One of our parents said, "I was there as a barometer. I had questions, of course, but contributing to my child's discussion and acting as a sounding board was a better approach."
It can be difficult to take a backseat. However, if the two of you do solid preparation before you arrive at the school, you can trust that your teen will explore campus in a way that will help him or her make a decision. Plus, you'll always be there to offer advice or opinions when needed.
Care for the teenager's mental and physical well-being. The college search is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Fatigue comes from long hours of travel, the stress in meeting with admissions officers, and everything else that adds challenges to your journey.
As a parent, you can help in several ways. Advanced planning for your trip may remove a lot of the stress caused by late arrivals and last-minute decisions about the itinerary. Also, try to get your teen to eat and sleep well. The right physical and mental state can make the difference between a lousy experience and a great college visit.
In Part 2 of our article about college tips for parents, we offer our best advice from parents for parents. Be sure to check it out!