7 Ways to Plan a Successful Visit With Your College Student

So maybe you didn’t have a chance to visit your son or daughter at college during parents’ weekend, or it didn’t go the way you’d hoped. I know I had my own agenda: spend time with his roommate, take his friends out to dinner, sit in on a lecture or two, eat in the dining hall and mingle with other parents.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t all about me. I was hoping our visit would help me get familiar with my freshman’s daily routine. I’d be able to imagine him in those great halls of learning, eating farm-to-table food in the dining hall, and finally put faces to the names of the new friends he’d made.

I would leave reassured and confident about how well my son was doing with the huge transition to college. That was a heavy burden to put on his shoulders, even if he was a foot taller than me.

What my son wanted was to disconnect for a bit from the hard work of making a new life. Developing friendships and creating a home-away-from-home takes energy, a lot of it. 

He needed to recharge and process the first few months of college; to talk about his hopes for the next few years. He just wanted me to listen. He wanted a break from his roommate, and he most certainly wanted a change from the dining hall.

When I told him I’d like to come visit, he texted back “I can’t wait until you get here so we can go out to eat.” I’ve missed you too, son. Once I threw out my itinerary for the weekend, we had a fantastic time.

You can make your college visit work. (Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock)

7 ways to have a great visit with your college kid

1. Be respectful of your student’s schedule

I told him I’d love to visit, but only if it wouldn’t stress him out. Maybe it’s too close to finals, or he has a big project due, or she has a hot date. Your son or daughter has their own life; be flexible to fit into their routine rather than putting demands on their time. 

2. Bring your own entertainment

My son was a gracious host, but I didn’t expect him to spend every hour with me, or start his day at 7a.m. I brought some books, my journal and coffee to make at my Airbnb. We parted ways after dinner, so he had time to spend with his friends in the evening.

3. Offer to take them shopping

My son’s Florida wardrobe was no longer suitable for the 40-degree fall days in Boston, so we headed out to buy some pants and a warm sweater. We also stopped at CVS so I could help him stock up on body wash and shampoo. I think I snuck some hot chocolate into the cart too.

Yes, he gets an allowance, but I don’t have many opportunities to spoil him now. I added some money to his subway card while we were out. Putting gas in their car or buying an Uber gift card works too.

4. Let them set the agenda 

When I visited, I thought we’d spend most of the time on campus. He wanted to go into the big city and show me all the places he’d discovered. I followed my tour guide-son through a majestic library, hidden parks and walking paths along the river.

During those 30,000 steps, I marveled at how much he’d explored and how confident he was in this new place. Let your student share the places and things they’re passionate about. You’ll see them in a whole new light.

5. Speak to them in their love language

Maybe your daughter misses getting her nails done with you, or your son wants to go for a bike ride. Do they secretly crave a quick backrub or watching a favorite Netflix show together?

Moving to college can be like landing in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. There’s nothing like having a visit from someone who shares the same dialect to help ease homesickness

In our family, we share the language of food. Many of our best conversations happen around the table or in the kitchen. During my 48-hour visit, my son and I hit at least a dozen cafes, restaurants and food trucks. We ate tacos in the park, explored a hidden Italian bakery and splurged on steak and frites one night. I savored the connection that came with each bite.

6. Ask questions but don’t be nosy

I wanted to know how my son was dealing with navigating things like drugs and parties. Did he feel safe? Was he feeling overwhelmed by the academic load? How about homesickness?

Questions that had been hard to ask during our weekly 15-minute phone calls came out more naturally when we were walking around town or having coffee. My goal was not to pry or lecture but to open the door if he wanted to talk or needed help.

For particularly personal questions, I started with “I’m not asking you tell me anything you don’t want to share, I just want to know how you are feeling about…” 

7. Offer to take things home

Some students come to college with the bare minimum and others arrive with a moving truck. Ask your son or daughter if there is anything they’d like to offload, like summer clothes, candles that aren’t allowed or the extra throw pillows they don’t really need. If you have space in your suitcase or car, it will save hassle later if you can downsize now.

Yes, you’re still the parent. But going to visit your student at college is like being invited to a dinner party. You’re the guest, and you want the host to enjoy your company, so they’ll invite you back.

Be open to whatever is on the menu. Leave before you wear out your welcome and thank them for showing you such a great time. 

More Great Reading:

Parents Weekend: 19 Dos and Don’ts of Visiting a Kid in College

About Kirsten Harrington

Kirsten Harrington is an Orlando-based freelance writer who loves to write about food and travel. She lived in China from 2019-2021 and still has many stories to tell. When she's not writing or planning out her next adventure with her husband, you might find her in the kitchen with her two sons.

Read more posts by Kirsten

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