Family Weekend: How to Plan Your Campus Visit

Family Weekend seems so simple. The college schedules the date, you show up, see your kid, maybe take in a football game, a dinner with the roommates and then repeat the far less teary goodbye than the one you said just a month ago.

Wrong.

Family Weekend is now an EVENT, complete with two or three days of crammed schedules, packed college towns and expensive game tickets. So let’s rewind the tape and take a look at some of the planning that will help you make the most of this weekend and save time and money.

While family weekend is different at every school, Dr. Patricia A. Perillo, Vice President for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, suggests that parents and students can reduce any potential stress or conflict by chatting about their expectations for the visit prior to arriving on campus. The conversation can focus on shared expectations of how the weekend will proceed including how much time your student might have available given the other demands in their schedule.

Dr. Perillo also suggests that parents consider including other family members if it is practical, including at least siblings and grandparents, as they will also be missing your student and welcome the time together. Parents should expect their teens to have changed, over even this short period of time, as they gain greater independence and establish their lives on campus. Having a student move to college is a major transition for every family and these weekends are a chance to help families deal with this change.

Family gathering on game day
Family Weekend on game day is a great time for extended family and siblings to visit their college student.

Tips for Planning Family Weekend

Where to stay:

It’s no exaggeration to say that parents hoping to attend Family Weekend should consider booking their hotel reservations as soon as their child commits to a college. This is one of the busiest weekends of the year and hotel rooms are reserved six months in advance, or more. In college towns with a limited supply of available rooms this can result in long drives to campus from more remote lodging. While most colleges list the major hotels in the area right on their website, many overlook the B&Bs and Airbnbs that can be well located, charming and much cheaper.

While renting a car was once a knee jerk response after landing at an airport away from home, on this visit parents might want to think twice. Almost all Family Weekend activities are centered on campus and walkable. Parking near campus can be challenging and expensive. Depending on where you stay, using ride-sharing services may be a cheaper option and, as you linger over the morning coffee in the lobby, you are almost certain to find other parents to split the cost of riding to campus.

Where to eat:

Make dinner reservations early especially if you need a table for your family and your teen’s friends with or without their visiting parents. Including your teens’ new friends or roommates in dinner plans may be especially welcome for students whose parents are unable to attend Family Weekend.

Eating out three times a day is expensive. If you are driving to campus, don’t forget to pack a cooler of your family’s favorite foods for a tailgate or picnic. Local eateries can be costly and crowded and campuses in the fall lend themselves to these al fresco meals.

Other Family Weekend Tips:

Parents are not usually a welcome addition to the dorm room, so it is important to look into local and campus activities before arriving at your teen’s college. Your student will likely have some of their own plans over the weekend, so parents need to find things to explore on their own. Start with the campus website which will detail the programming and logistics such as tickets or parking. Many parents weekends require registration and, for some colleges, there is a fee to sign-up and there may be additional costs for athletic events, cultural events, parking, tailgating, on campus meals and more.

Use the weekend as a chance to bring any heavy winter items your student may have left at home on that hot August move in day. In many parts of the country they will need these items before Thanksgiving and here is a chance to save on shipping costs.

This is also an opportunity to restock your student with some needed items you can buy more cheaply than at the campus bookstore. We usually take a run to our local big box store, which can be far less expensive and will have everything they may need in one location. If you have driven to campus or rented a car, this is a chance to replenish any food items in bulk.

If campus activities are fully booked or prohibitively expensive, consider searching online in the local paper for free or inexpensive events in the area. Go beyond the parent section of the college website to discover smaller campus offerings that might not be getting as much attention as the headline events.

High school siblings who have been missing their older brothers or sisters can use this visit a chance to sample college life by staying in a dorm (and saving on hotel costs!), taking a campus tour, sitting in on a class, or attending a party. For those who are about to start the college process, this may help them begin to visualize themselves as college students.

Be aware that as much as colleges love having parents on campus, they also love collecting donations from parents. The Family Weekend is very much a cultivation event designed to put you in a giving frame of mind.

Should You Visit Your Student on Family Weekend?

While the jam-packed schedule of offerings on Family Weekend is certainly an inducement to attend, not all parents find this the ideal time to visit campus. Here are a few things to consider.

1. In some cases these weekends are scheduled not long after students have left home. A weekend later in the semester or in the spring might be a better time for a visit.

2. Family Weekends can be mobbed and certain local or campus tours or events sold out. Visiting campus at another time may actually be a chance to see more.

3. Many Family Weekend schedules offer parents the chance to visit places like the study abroad office or career services, but these resources will often be available on a typical Friday by just calling ahead.

4. One of the highlights of visiting campus is taking your kid and their roommates or new friends out for a meal. On Family Weekend these wonderful additions to your student’s life are often with their own parents.

5. Many colleges charge just for attending Family Weekend before the additional cost of any event tickets. With crowds, free parking is less readily available than it would be on a quieter weekend. Visiting campus on your own may be less expensive.

Family weekend can be a wonderful reunion and a chance to get an up-close look at your student’s campus life. Careful planning will help families make the most of this special time.

You Might Also Want To Read:

College Care Packages From Home: 50 Great Ideas 

How to Help Your College Student When They are Homesick

From where to stay to what do while you are visiting your college student, we have you covered.We even have suggestions for what to do when your kid tells you they are attending a partyafter the big game (sorry, Mom and Dad: you aren’t invited).

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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