Our girls had President’s Week off, so what better way to spend it than a relaxing visit to six California colleges? We were a bit skeptical to spend the time and money to visit multiple campuses; Ashley (a Junior) had already visited a few schools and knew which ones would be best for her planned major – Biology.
Why not wait to see where she is accepted and then check out options?
At a minimum, we would enjoy a nice week of quality family time in beautiful Southern California, including one of our favorite destinations, San Diego.
Ultimately, the goal was to survey the landscape of the multitude of college options and determine what to prioritize when we get to the application process.
Like any trip, it wasn’t without surprises, but the experience was invaluable!
For the purposes of this post I will share how we tackled the logistics challenge and what we learned along the way.
Southern California Colleges Visit
It will come as no surprise when I state that there is quite a bit of planning required in visiting multiple campuses in multiple locations over a six-day period.
Departing from Sacramento, our home base, we planned to start our journey in San Diego, visit UCSD, then traverse in a northerly manner. Ultimately, we would finish our weeklong journey, visiting a total of six colleges, in LA.
The trip included a rental car and multiple hotel stops along the way.
Recommended steps in planning your trip:
Select schools of interest.
Check tour times / availability (Just search school name+ tour).
Determine best sequence for visits.
See if you can squeeze in a fun day.
Book flights / rental car / hotels.
Add everything to calendar including driving time.
Fly to San Diego.
Meet with college advisor. (We have a college advisor who happens to live in San Diego. She has helped us build Ashley’s resume and explore her medical interests in-depth through job shadowing opportunities and meeting with students and researchers.)
Explore area surrounding campus (this happened to be La Jolla, so not exactly a chore!).
Rest Day! Have some fun!
Visit UC San Diego campus.
Research Lab visit (9am)
Campus Tour (10am – noon)
Drive to Newport Beach.
Explore area surrounding UC Irvine campus.
Campus Tour (noon – 2pm)
UCR Overview + Dorm Visit (3pm – 5pm);
Latest Campus Tour was at 2pm.
Drive to Burbank (Los Angeles).
UCLA Campus Tour (11:15am – 1:15pm)
Pepperdine (2pm – 4pm)
Note: we arrived too late for tour but checked out campus and surrounding area (Malibu).
Visit University of Southern California campus.
USC (noon – 2pm)
Fly home from Burbank Airport.
Besides the 2+ hour tour, there are parking logistics (we used Uber a few times), finding the tour (not as easy as you might think at some schools), as well as travel time. It is almost equally important to see the area surrounding the school, so ideally allow extra time for this.
With that said, even just walking the campus for an hour or having lunch there and people watching can provide a pretty good impression.
Figure Out What’s Important to You
Tours typically start with a 30-minute overview from an Admissions Officer followed by a 1.5-hour student led campus tour.
Take advantage of this time to ask questions such as how the student got in, what they like (and don’t like), is it hard to get classes, etc.
Also, take notes on key attributes, impressions, and what your child is drawn to.
Factors to consider:
Private vs. Public
Prestigious vs. down-to-earth
Urban vs. semi-urban (close but not in city)
Distance from home (in-state vs. out-of-state; easy flight)
Clubs / sports
Recreational interests (surfing, skiing, hiking, etc.
Students are like me (prejudice, regional bias, intellectual range, etc.)
Student facilities (food, common areas, workout facilities, student union, dorms)
Religious requirements (faith-based, Jesuit, religious clubs)
Research funding (grants, ability to participate)
Study abroad opportunities
Was it Worth It?
Seeing a variety of schools back-to-back was priceless! Even among the UC’s, they were all quite distinct. Besides size, emphasis, prestige, and aesthetics, there is an intangible vibe that makes one place feel like home and another not.
This vibe may be the difference in your child’s happiness and success in their chosen school and will be evident when it comes time to submit their essay, as well as in their interview.
Tip! Take lots of notes and pictures
I don’t want to bias anyone, and each school will no doubt appeal to a different audience, so I won’t share school-specific views.
I will say that many of our pre-trip opinions changed. I didn’t want my little girl living in LA, but now am open to it. A school we thought would be incredible felt lonely and isolated. We ended up loving a school we thought we wouldn’t like. Two schools were eliminated, and one school stole the #1 spot.
Scott Howard uses points and miles to travel the world with his wife and two girls. In fact, the flights and hotels for this college adventure were all free by using points. He lives by the motto, “Your life is made of two dates and a dash. Make the most of the dash.” Scott shares ways to optimize travel planning on his blog, Analytical Traveler.