Although I am sure it is not the norm, my oldest child, Emily, was prone to procrastination. She knew she would be going to college but she did not want to talk about it, think about it or do any of the things necessary to choose a college; perhaps she thought it would just magically happen. I strongly encouraged her to sign up for a college coach (best program ever!) but she still did not seem very excited about the whole process and was more than a little resistant toward my attempts to engage her. As a last resort, in the summer before her senior year, I forced her to go on a college admissions tour.
The tour was at Colby College. As a high school student I attended basketball camp at Colby, but thinking they were all pretty much the same, I assumed Colby would be just another college. On our visit, I was completely blown away by all Coby had to offer. The tour was far more than looking at the facilities. The student guide gave us scads of information about life in general at Colby- I still remember that they have 54 intramural and club sports (including quidditch) in addition to their varsity sports; they have a woodworking shop available to students and alumni for life and one of the dining rooms fries up homemade doughnuts every Saturday morning. It was the little details that made my daughter’s eyes light up for the first time as she anticipated going to college.
We continued our touring with a late summer trip to Dartmouth, Middlebury, and the University of Vermont. Emily and her friend Ann took copious notes at each place and thoroughly compared and contrasted them in the back seat of my minivan. My younger daughter Allison, about to enter her first year of high school, tagged along taking in much more than I expected (and has been thoroughly excited about the prospect of going to college ever since). In the fall, we made a last minute trip to tour Bates, Bowdoin, and Harvard. Every tour was beneficial. At Bates the parents and students toured separately allowing both students and parents a chance to ask sensitive questions without the others around. (Bates also has the most immaculate laundry rooms I have ever seen and 10 soundproof practice rooms with grand pianos.) College students led the tours and were very knowledgeable and incredibly honest about college life.
Looking back, three years, two daughters and a dozen college visits later, there are a number of things I discovered that stand out to me from our touring:
- Your child may not know for sure if they want to go to a particular college that they are visiting but they usually know right away if they do not…and that is important information to have.
- Each college that you visit will emphasize why they are different- what they offer that no one else does. You probably will not find this information on their website. Most small liberal arts colleges have a similar list of majors and most state universities offer similar areas of study but they are certainly not all the same.
- Go to the admissions talk– you may think that if you have heard one you have heard them all (I did) but no, there have been valuable nuggets of information in every admissions talk I have attended. The talks usually focus on admissions and financial information for their particular institution including helpful tips on what admissions personnel are looking for that you might not hear anywhere else but, they also include general information that will help with admissions at any college.
- Your child will not spend four years in a bubble so look around at the town the college is in/near; believe or not, college town has been an important factor with all four college bound students that I have toured with.
- Do not wait until they are seniors. Take your children early; visiting as sophomores or juniors gives them time and incentive to fulfill all the admissions requirements of the colleges they like most.
College visits inspired in my girls both an excitement and an anticipation for attending. They were able to see themselves there playing rugby, singing in an a Capella group or reading under the pines. I think it alleviated a lot of the fears and hesitations, maybe even the procrastination, associated with the unknown. Spending time on different types of campuses, and learning the myriad of opportunities available at college, helped them discover what was important to them- even if it brought them no closer to knowing what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Finally, visiting colleges with my daughters helped to quell some of the many fears I had about leaving my little girl all alone in a community of strangers.
– Heather Cormier