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- Tips to Get the Most from Your College Tour Trip

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Photo credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images.
Photo credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images.
Many families undertake this rite of passage, touring a set of campuses with a college-bound teen, and in fact the "college tour" can become the family vacation when teens are a certain age.

Expect a certain amount of randomness (- see "stupidest reasons a child rejects a college" for gems such as "size of squirrels" or "tour guide's shoes" -- ) but nonetheless a few good tips can help your family get the most from these trips.

College Tour Tips

Create a Photo Diary: when you visit multiple campuses, they can easily blur together once you get back home. So use your digital camera strategically: start off at each college with a photo of a sign with the college name. Take lots of pix, and organize your photos into folders asap.

Visit While Classes are in Session: your goal is to see these schools in action. Summer is an especially bad time to visit smaller schools which have no classes in session. If you're planning a trip during your teen's high school spring break, make sure that your target college(s) aren't also having a spring break week. Consider whether you can visit during fall, instead. Also, even if classes are in session, avoid weeks when midterms and finals are going on.

Go Beyond the Official Campus Tour: typically these tours are led by students and take an hour or less, and give overviews of the college and student life. Try to interact with other contacts: do you have a friend of a friend who attends that college? Put Facebook for work! Also, if your teen plays sports or music, it may be possible to set up a meeting with a coach or relevant faculty member. Also, speak with at last two professors or students from your teen's intended major. Suss out which classes are most popular and fill up fast. You may be able to arrange a class visit if you plan in advance.

Ask Lots of Questions: ideally, your teen will speak with students, the tour guide, professors, and ask lots of questions -- even the same questions, posed to different people. Check out questions to ask about college academic and social life. (Note to parents: don't overpower the situation with your own questions; you risk embarrassing your teen which, who knows, could lead to a rejection of the entire college -- see "stupid reasons for rejecting colleges", above.)

Check Out Bulletin Boards, Posters, Campus Newsletter: while you're on the campus, take the opportunity to see what's posted on bulletin boards or on the hallways in the dorms and student center, for insights into campus life. Campus newsletters are also great, for a slice-of-life.

Eat While on Campus: get some practical experience in what the food's going to be like once your child is living on her/his own.

Do a Sleepover on Your College Tour: if you call in advance, your teen could stay in a dorm overnight. Many schools will arrange for a teen to stay overnight with a current student. (Bonus: your teen will get an opportunity to chat with his/her student host.) And speaking of dormitories... check if campus housing is guaranteed for all four years, or just for the freshman year.

Walk the Extra Mile: explore the campus beyond the highlights you've been shown on the official tour.

Slow the Pace: finally, if you're on a road trip, even if it's physically possible to visit more than two schools in a day, resist the urge. You won't have time for more than a superficial look, which does not take full advantage of your opportunity for a college tour.

Be Wary of Information Sessions which may not be the best use of your time. As one writer put it in the LA Times: "They don't give you any information that can't be found in far greater detail on the Web. Of course, if you enjoy sitting in an auditorium amid a few hundred parents who all look wealthier and smarter than you, go for it." As someone who hates getting captured in an auditorium, I'd advise sitting near the back, for a discreet exit if need be.

*Background material for some of these college tour tips was provided in press material from Sylvan Learning.

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