Kim Parros

The perfect college tour. Is there such a thing?

I ask myself this as I review the list of colleges my son handed to me after weeks of investigation. I mull over his choice of colleges in my head without commenting and begin to prepare the itinerary for “tour week”. Tour week, the marathon of all college tours was me, my husband, and our son visiting two colleges every day for 5 days straight.

Parents whose children want to explore colleges outside of their home state often find their spring break of the child’s junior year filled with these kinds of tour frenzies. Gone are the lazy days of lying on a beach or the fun filled days exploring new vacation spots. Instead are planes and cars and early hours getting up to the never easy to find admissions office.

At each stop I began to dread the hustle of signing in, sitting in a room with 100 other anxious students and their parents awaiting the admission speech, and preparing to hear how impossible it will be to gain admission into the best college on everyone’s list.

As a person who works in the college planning field, I have been to hundreds of these tours, but as an Independent College Consultant not as a parent, and not with my son. Now I no longer sit as a silent counselor thinking about what kids would be a good fit for the school, I am thinking about how my son will fit into the college and find a way to flourish. What he is looking for in a college is what’s important right now, not my view of the colleges, so I keep my mouth shut as he announces, after the admission introduction and before the tour starts, that the college is not what he is looking for. So we ditch the tour and as we head to the rental car, while trying to not be noticed by the parents or the tour guide. I can only shrug my shoulders and accept what he thinks: the college landscape is too hilly, the dorms look outdated, and the other students do not ‘look’ like him.

As a self-proclaimed expert in the college tour industry, here are my tips for all those exasperated parents out there:

  1. You may think you know what college is best for your child but you will be surprised by what they like the most in the colleges they tour.
  2. Don’t judge a college by its name or perceived status: there are many small colleges that offer so much more than larger colleges but you will never know until you visit.
  3. Watch your child as he/she interacts with the tour guide, what questions they ask and how much interest they show in their surroundings
  4. Make sure at the end of the day (not during or right after the tour) you question them on the “why”. Why do you think you want to go here? Why do you think this is the best fit for you? Time this right otherwise you will definitely get an “I don’t know”.
  5. Be open to driving through colleges that might not be on the tour but are along the route, we found some real gems this way. If you do this feel free to stop into admissions and introduce yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised how much time they take with you to tell you about their college.

It takes a lot of work just to get to the point of touring. Our son had to make a college list, I had to schedule tours, find hotels, reserve the rental, and book flights, not to mention the back and forth on trying to find the best prices on all fronts. I am still amazed how hard it was. All of the logistics consumed hours of our time. In the end, it was rewarding to come up with a real list of colleges that meet his needs and we all think he will be happy at. For all the pain, “tour week” was well worth the effort.

Looking to get the most out of your college tour? For tips on what to do and not do on a tour read our blog on that here!