College Trips with Your Teen

diverse happy woman on floorHaving a Junior or Senior in high school prompts a daunting enterprise: finding a college. If ever there was a project that can take all the time you have to give, and more, it’s this one. There are so, so many (too many?) sources of information available regarding tactics. So, I won’t be discussing those strategies. Instead, I’d like to focus on some relationship issues I’ve seen as folks plan college visits.

• Try to develop some scoring rubric in advance of your trip. Divide 100 points up among those factors that matter to you and your teen: cost, distance, academic reputation, college atmosphere, student to faculty ration, etc. Then, as you do your trip do your independent ratings, comparing them after the trip is over.

• Try to surrender the concept of one perfect, or just right school. There are about 1,400 four year colleges in the U.S. So, there are likely more “just right” schools than you could ever have time to visit or seriously consider.

• Schedule an official tour (these will often answer many of your questions). Thenconfused graduate character develop your list of questions that you’d like to see addressed during the tour. The better of these will likely hit all the high points (e.g., dorms, library, classrooms, gym, cafeteria, study abroad options, internships, student center) but, if not, ask.

• Consider this to be a unique bonding opportunity with you and your teen. Take occasion to do some sightseeing or to create some special moments and momentoes. Who knows how much one-on-one time is in your near future with your teen; so, this time (even the commute) can be precious.

woman overwhelmed by books• Always ask for your teens opinion before giving yours. When you disagree with some analysis your teen has rendered, offer empathy for it and try to use questions to make your points. For example, if your teen, upon seeing a work of art at the entrance to the library, notes “Ewww. I could never come to a school that has such terrible art in front of its library!” You could first give empathy for that visceral reaction, pause (and maybe listen more), then ask, “what percent of the average students week here do you think he or she spends looking at that?”

• Try to schedule a visit to see a lecture in a discipline that is of some interest to your teen. Many universities, with a couple of weeks notice, are happy to help with this. (Don’t worry if your teen doesn’t have a major picked out yet. That’s common.)

• Make sure to take your own tour of the department where your teen may have a major. Don’t hesitate to knock on any doors where you see a faculty member and ask if s/he has 5-10 minutes for questions. (Make sure to have some ready.) The worse thing that happens is that s/he doesn’t have the time. The best thing that happens is that a faculty member, where your child ends up going to school, starts to develop a positive connection with your child.

• Try to make the time to look around the community surrounding the campus, leadershipfiguring out what various practicalities might be at play. (Many campuses are self-contained in terms of the range of services and entertainment available but sometimes it will be nice to break out to the surrounding area.) This can also give you a sense for the range of internships that might be available.

• Set up a timeline for yourselves. Your teen’s guidance counselor, or the myriad of other resources available to assist (e.g., websites, e-books), can guide you about what should go on your timeline. This can help you to feel some sense of control over what can be an incredibly daunting prospect.

man stressing to pursue money• Begin having discussions with your teen about financing as soon as you can in the process: what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you’re prepared to do and what you’re not prepared to do. This can be an important factor in helping your teen to be realistic about which schools s/he seriously targets and reduce the odds that s/he will fall in love with a school that isn’t a possibility. (Your guidance counselor can help you to rough estimate what adjustment down from the sticker price your child might hope to get from the school given the strength of his or her application.)

 • Begin reflecting on your teen’s capacity to manage himself or herself at various institutions. Is Becky ready to be 8 hours away on an urban campus with 10,000 students? Is Jaden prepared to do well in a lecture hall with several hundred students? In other words: what’s the nature of this pond and how well or poorly might your progeny swim there?
• Lastly, try to be patient with the process. We parent-lunatics are at risk to black man walingover-worry, to over-control and to get freaked out at all of the uncertainty. Somehow, someway, somewhere, s/he will likely land at some institution of higher learning and avoid a life of crime and/or homelessness.
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