It’s that time when high schoolers are starting to do some college tours. Families start to get excited about this process and some will schedule out a full week of campus after campus all over the country.
Not sure where to start? Look for a local open house. Even if it’s not on the radar of desired schools, starting with a very local college is a low-risk, low-commitment activity that can help your high schooler start to define what college will look like for them.
Take the time to walk through a few campuses to see what spikes your teen’s interest before investing time and money into the search.
Find something local. Do the tour. Walk around campus. Try the food. Check out the neighborhood. Just have a very casual, low-key visit.
The first tour that we did with our oldest was a fairly local, medium-sized state school in a city.
He liked the dorms. That made newer dorms feel more like a priority.
He liked the small class sizes. That made him realize that he liked the idea of a smaller school.
He liked the program that he was interested in at the time. That helped him narrow down the search.
He didn’t like the split campus. That eliminated all campuses that required a bus.
He didn’t like the busy-ness of this small city. That meant that we didn’t have to look anywhere in Boston or New York.
In two hours of our time, we were able to narrow down some preferences, because he didn’t know that these were important until after he experienced them on a tour.
On the next college visit, we checked out a larger State University, just to be sure that we could rule out the large university.
He was on campus for about ten minutes and he knew that it was too big for him.
I had also had him drive part of the way there.
He immediately knew it was too far from home.
From that point on, we knew that we needed to be less than x hours, at a smaller school, and in a suburban or rural area. This, plus his intended major, really helped us focus the search.
When you get in the car, DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Ask them to take five minutes to make a specific like/ don’t like list (on the phone or a notebook). Don’t talk. Let them think. When they are done, ask them to share their initial thoughts. DON’T interject. Let them talk. Let them know that you value and respect their opinion by allowing them to do all the talking.
When they are done, ask them, “Are you ready to hear what I thought?”
Keep it simple. Agree with parts that you agree with. Don’t argue with them about things they didn’t like. Ask them to elaborate about their dislikes.
When done discussing, here are three questions to ask:
Does this school stay on the list for now?
What is something you learned that you want your school to absolutely have?
What is something that you didn’t like that you will want to avoid on future campus visits?
Spring is a great time to get on some weekend open houses. Start locally. Once you have a better sense of the wants and needs, then you can start looking beyond your area if that’s an option.
Have you found college open houses to be helpful? Let me know your thoughts below.
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This is some really great advice. I read this prior to our first official tours and just re-read it after taking several tours. I wish J was as decisive as E was about class size, location, etc. I let him do the talking after the tours and asked some open-ended questions. He loved one school that I didn’t think he would and he was pretty iffy about a school I thought he’d like. I’m so thankful that I read your “DON”T SAY ANYTHING” because otherwise, I may have swayed his opinion by offering my thoughts on each campus. I’m looking forward to more insight from you on this process because I definitely do find it overwhelming and stressful.
Thank you for your comment! I think that we want to help SO MUCH, that it’s hard to sit back and not insert our opinions. Believe me, staying quiet and letting him talk first was SOOOOO hard!
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