HomeArticles“The College Road Trip”

Dear Estelle. Plans are underway to take Zack, a junior, on a few college trips this year to the East, Midwest, and possibly California and Texas. We’ll fly to a region, rent a car, tour the area visiting as many colleges as possible. What suggestions do you have to maximize the time so our son will really benefit from the experience? ASM, Littleton

In the olden days it was unusual for parents and their children to make college visits. Never having seen the school, they would drive their overloaded station wagon up to the freshman dorm right before school was to begin, unpack everything and say their farewells. For this generation of students, college trips have become an integral part of the college application process. And they serve several purposes. Besides deciding whether or not a school feels like a good fit, the college road trip may be an opportunity to use the driving time to create a bond with your adolescent. It may also signal a “rite of passage.” Your student is now making the first move to become independent. One parent stated it well after returning from one of their road trips when his child was a high school senior, “The college tour is a metaphor for saying goodbye to your kid.”

From a practical standpoint there are some do’s and don’ts that can improve the quality of your trip:

  • Stay calm. Visit colleges with your student but remember it is the student, not you, who is going to college.
  • Bite your tongue! Remember they are the consumer and can probably do a better appraisal of what feels right for them in terms of the college environment.
  • Learn to roll with the punches. Your child’s reaction to a particular college or university may be based on very subjective details i.e. the way other students are dressed, information on the bulletin board, a very “cool” bookstore, or a strange tour guide.
  • Don’t overbook yourself because you have to see every college within a 100-mile radius and don’t visit just the Ivies. Plan to see a mix of schools both in selectivity, size, and location.
  • Take an evaluation form along which lists the attributes of a college which the students completes right after a college visit while it is fresh in his mind. Have him write down his “gut” feeling about the school. Would he like being a student there and could he see himself there for four years?

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