When my son, now a rising college senior was in high school, I got banned from his college tours. My oohing, ahhing and opinionated commentary during our first tour led to his request to visit schools alone with his dad. I was somewhat relieved as the prospect of my firstborn leaving the nest was weighing heavily on my mind. I pretended to be offended, yet accommodating, and happily retreated to a blissful state of denial.
But then came the one tour that his dad and I had to divide and conquer. Because it was close to home, we decided that I would accompany the young scholar to the information session, and his dad would join us for the campus tour. We navigated our way through the city, pulling into the nearest underground garage and miraculously found a spot.
The unusually crisp summer day felt more like fall and I couldn’t help but comment on the gorgeous baskets of annuals as we walked towards the visitor’s center. “Here we go,” my son remarked. “We’re not even one block from the garage and you’re already judging.”
Seething, I kept my mouth shut until we entered the former Masonic Temple that now housed Alumni Hall and our imminent information session, and I when I complimented the architectural glory, my boy said, “You’re already pressuring me to apply.”
I warned him that if he didn’t cut the crap, I would leave. That didn’t go over very well and seconds after taking my seat I announced that I was, in fact, leaving. And just like that I left my prospective student in the city and drove home to the safety of the suburbs. In full disclosure, I cried the entire way home.
Although he came home apologetic and raved about the school he expected to hate, we both learned a lesson that day. I may not have been that overbearing on that particular morning, but my inability to keep my opinions to myself in all prior discussions resulted in this argument, which was totally avoidable. Where to attend college was not my decision, and not letting him embark on his own journey got me banned even from the sidelines.
So when my daughter began her college search, I employed the lessons I learned the hard way, and here’s my advice:
5 Things to Remember about College Tours
1. Ask your teen to make a list. Don’t do it for him. Your prospective college student is capable of doing research and compiling a list of potential schools. Setting expectations early on in terms of your tuition limits and distance from home is a must, but other than that, it’s hands off.
The teen who’s been threatening for three years to attend college on the opposite coast may want to stay closer to the nest after an actual college visit. Conversely, the teen you thought would never leave your basement may be ready to fly farther than you imagined. A pro/con list and notes are helpful as you move forward in the process.
2. Don’t make it all about the colleges, add some fun. If traveling outside your geographical area, explore the area around campus. Restaurant reservations, museum visits or a drive through the surrounding area, contribute not only to getting to know the school’s location, but also make for a fun, touristy weekend.
For several of our college tours, my sister and niece joined my daughter and me for an eventful few days away, which we have now promised to make a tradition. At another recent visit, my husband and I made a reservation at a restaurant we had read about and wanted to try. The opportunity to visit friends may also present itself; positive experiences make for less stressful tours.
3. Hold your tongue. On my son’s first college tour, I seemed to adopt the Department of Homeland Security’s mantra, “if you see something, say something,” which in retrospect, was a disastrous approach. Reasonable and thought-provoking prompts such as, “Can you see yourself here for four years?” make sense. On the other hand, “OMG. This is would be my first choice if I were applying,” is not helpful chatter.
4. Respect your child’s space. During the Q&A session on a recent tour, one mother raised her hand and asked the tour guide, “If my Brandon needs extra help, where would he go for tutoring?” Fair question; however, her Brandon turned beet red and just about fainted. Not cool. While we’re on that topic, encourage your child to ask questions and be engaged in the tour and information session. If your teen is just not comfortable and is okay with you stepping in, perhaps refrain from using “MY Susie,” and just ask your question.
5. Don’t react to everything your teen says. Your teen is just trying to figure this out and sometimes thinks out loud. You may be surprised at some of the commentary, and most of it may not merit an immediate response. This is a volatile time for both parents and teens trying to adjust to leaving home, empty nesting or parenting-minus-one. Be gentle with one another and remember that timing is everything: A discussion at the wrong time can turn into an accusatory shouting match, while the same concepts go over smoothly when everyone is engaged and ready to listen.
The search for the right college is a first major life decision for most teens and takes its toll on parents as well. While this is a stressful time, it is also exciting and full of promise. Senior year is bound to fly by and a few tears are inevitable along the way, but taking the journey together makes for unforgettable memories.