Surviving College Tours: 5 Tips You Have Never Heard Before

If you’re the parent of a college-bound senior, you have a few more of these to look forward to this fall: College Tours.

We’ve all seen the lists — most with very practical advice — to help prepare for college tours with your kids. But there is an underbelly to this process, people, and I am here to expose it. You’re welcome.

Survival tactics for parents on college tours

Five unconventional tips for surviving college tours

1. Stay at a hotel with happy hour

If you don’t need a stiff drink or free hors d’oeuvres at the end of the day, then you are not going about college tours correctly. If all goes according to plan, you will be exhausted and hungry, and ready to lounge while being catered to by folks not trying to deplete your 529 accounts.

We traveled throughout Virginia and North and South Carolina and had a party waiting at every hotel. It was a deliberate and necessary plan and did not escalate the room rate. The bonus is the kids were hungry as well and this was free grazing. Possibly the last of the free food for 4 long years.

2. Bite your tongue

Your impression of the school is not important unless your objection is a matter of safety or finances. So, even you are like Goldilocks on that tour and the campus is too small or too big or just doesn’t feel right, you have to bite your tongue.

Practice this restraint ahead of time by watching your child execute a task the exact opposite of the way you would. Say, loading the dishwasher or washing the windshield with that grimy squeegee thing at the gas station.

Force yourself to stand there and observe without correcting or uttering a word. Take it one step further and put on the worst rap song you can find on your kid’s iCloud and practice your poker face — no cringing or wincing — in front of a mirror. Repeat several times a day.

3. Eat in the dining hall

We allowed time for a meal at a dining hall on every campus. Nothing on earth prepares your child’s taste buds for institutional cooking. You might as well start prepping them for the plunge as early as possible. We found some did it very well. Virginia Tech stood out with a dining hall that was like the best Mall eatery EVER on steroids. I wanted to stay there and forget the rest of the tour.

At other schools, the food seemed like my 13-year-old was the dietician and chef. As odd as it sounds, food can make or break freshman year and it ain’t cheap. The worst scenario is paying upwards of a $1000 a semester for a meal plan and the swipes sit idle while your kid is living on fast food. The dining hall is also a prime place for people watching and observing the animals in their natural habitat. Just try not to look totally creepy as you eavesdrop and linger at the soda dispensers.

4. Do not compare this to your college experience

Face it, we are dinosaurs. Our college memories have been fossilized with value only to historians and reunion committees. I spent most of a recent college tour looking like Columbus when he discovered the world was not indeed flat.

My kids soon tired of my wide-eyed, time-traveling approach to tours. No one wants to hear about the communal phone in the hallway, your typewriter, or the lack of apps to notify you when laundry is finished. Be in the present with no equating old and new. If you are struggling, see #2 above.

5. Step away from the bookstore

You can just save yourself the trouble and shop at my house. I even take PayPal. We collected (translation: paid top dollar for) souvenirs for all three boys from every college we visited. We are now like an NCAA sportswear clearinghouse in multiple sizes; including women’s.

Once your child commits to a school, you will spend the equivalent of a mortgage on spirit wear. Until then, the bookstore is a trap with Starbucks as the bright shiny ball to distract you. Instead, it really pays to focus on the swag given as part of the tour. Even when we were crossing a school off the list while still on campus, we took their mug and RAN because coffee always tastes better in a free mug.

And there you have it, my super-secret strategy for surviving campus tours. Remember this is the fun part! Every school loves you when you visit. There is power in that even if you don’t love them back!

You Might Also Want to Read:

My Son Applied to Colleges Alone: A Cautionary Tale



About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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