On Sunday, my daughter Anya and I completed a 2260 mile road trip to New England in 6 days, and visited 5 colleges. We had many soaring moments, with occasional flurries of tension, Siri-guided dead ends and an AirBNB that reeked of cat pee. The trip was a great success.
On the ride home, I thought, Wow, what made it work so well? Ultimately, the college search process is about more than finding a good fit. A successful college visit should help build students’ independence and sense of competency, and help them lean into their professional identity. Here are things you can do to grow your son or daughter’s excitement about college, and end the trip still friends.
Some essentials: Anya wants to study Fine Art, specifically painting, drawing, interactive media and performance art. She conducted her own research on colleges, with my input.
Share the road
We shared the driving 50/50. Maybe that’s an obvious choice, but it helped her take ownership, not only of the experience, but of the city she might soon call home. She glided into New York City like she’d lived there her whole life, which added to her excitement and sense of competency while we were there.
Anya was born with the Project Manager gene, so planning comes naturally to her. Encourage your son or daughter to take over as much of the trip planning as possible. I highly recommend the website roadtrippers, which helped us plot out what we could accomplish in one day, and where we needed to stay overnight, to make it to each morning’s campus appointment.
Before you go, talk about your need to ask questions, and her need not to be embarrassed by your questions. As a parent, of course you have questions. Establish a signal if you cross the line. I possess the added gift/curse (point of view depends on Anya’s mood) of being a career coach, which adds a layer of intensity for us. I can become a barracuda if left unchecked. i.e. How do you support the students in landing internships? How pervasive are career services programs, and what do they teach? I asked the student guides, What made you know this was the right college for you? I’m always looking for ways to get the guide off script and listening for how well the school helps students become “job ready.” At times my intensity drove Anya crazy.
There’s a benefit of me asking questions though: Initially she had no idea what to ask. Think about this from your son or daughter’s perspective: They are thrust into this completely new environment that feels overwhelming; there’s a lot to take in. Each school has its own uniqueness, your child trying to discern, what will this mean for me? Initially, Anya was relieved I asked the questions so she could take it all in. By the last two colleges though, Anya turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ll handle the questions.” Yes! Let the career self-advocacy begin.
Schedule a tour at the department of intended major
No college has denied us this request yet (including two schools with 40,000 students). We met with one Academic Advisor, Alexandra, at a large urban school. She spent 2 hours with us, answering all our questions, showing Anya where she would take classes, what resources the art program had, and introduced her to an art student who talked about her experience there. It was our best visit by far, and as a result it is one of Anya’s top schools. If we’d just scheduled the general campus tour and missed the department tour, Anya might have dismissed this school.
- Set up a class visit.
- Meet with a professor in the department.
- Before you visit, obtain a current student’s contact information from the department so your son or daughter can speak with the student. A conversation can pull out subtleties you wouldn’t learn from a campus visit.
Maintain safe distance
We made the mistake of planning two college visits in one day, at schools two hours apart. I don’t recommend it. Our brains could not take in any more information on the second tour. We both kept whispering to each other, “What did she just say?” My caveat would be if they are both in one city, two in one day might be doable. Know you will take in A LOT of information that day.
Remember, it’s about the relationship
If you are running late for your campus visit appointment, it’s not the end of the world, and not worth applying undue pressure. Prior to one visit, Anya needed to change out of her socks (it was rainy, she wore several pairs . . . oh never mind). The clock was ticking, it was 5 minutes before we were supposed to register, and she calmly sat in the car and changed her socks. I could have gone ahead inside, but I didn’t. I decided it was more important to feel positive and connected than to be on time. Relationship before content was my mantra during this trip. Whenever I switched that equation around, tension escalated between us.
This was an exquisite experience. Exhausting and stressful—yes. And did I mention we drove 2260 miles in 6 days? Today Anya possesses a future vision of herself as a professional artist she didn’t have a week ago. While visiting Parsons in New York, she saw what it could be like, and learned that artists find real work. Up until now, college has been all research, essay questions, websites, and long distance conversations with professors, advisors and students. Nothing compares to a flesh and blood visit, seeing artwork of your peers, the studios in which they create. Diving into college campuses made Anya’s adult future vibrate with possibility.
Julie Bondy Roberts, MA, GCDF is a career coach, LinkedIn™ Profile Makeover Specialist, public speaker and blogger. She is the founder and principal at Coming Alive Career Coaching. To learn more about LinkedIn™ Profile Makeover packages for your graduating college senior, contact Julie at email@example.com. If you enjoyed this post, or know someone who would, please share!