3 things I learned from too many college tours

All of my children were on spring break last week. Now, if your child is a high school junior, as is my oldest, there is only one thing to do on spring break: visit as many colleges as you can.

Much has been written about the frenzy that consumes a family as a child approaches the college years, and an important aspect of this frenzy is the campus tour. Because how else is a sixteen year old going to narrow the field to the ten or twelve colleges to which she’ll apply?

So last week we took our high school junior on a whirlwind tour of six schools in four days. She sampled from the buffet selection of very large universities (24,000 undergrads) to small colleges (population 2,000), public and private institutions, urban and remote campuses. She met with admissions advisors, toured residence halls, lunched with current students, and even attended class (Psychology 101 – how basic to the freshman college experience can you get?), her father or me dutifully trailing along.

It’s unclear still what my own college candidate took away from the campus tour experience, but here are the 3 things that I learned:

1. Over-achievement is the new black. These cheerful young student guides have not only mastered walking backwards while side-stepping rain puddles and avoiding loose pathway bricks, but they are double, sometimes triple majors. They DJ at the campus radio station, belong to several student clubs (and are planning to start one of their own because all you need is four students with a common interest to get seed money to establish a club), participate in intramural sports, take regular advantage of the fitness center, and work on special projects for their professors (with whom they are on a first name basis). These kids have done more in their freshman year than I’ve done in my adult lifetime. If these are the future leaders of this country I’m encouraged!

2. The high school students on the tour WILL NOT ASK A SINGLE QUESTION. They do not even appear to be paying attention as they traipse behind the guide, trying to stay at the back of the pack. The parents, on the other hand, will repeatedly embarrass their children with the most inane questions. At one school we visited, when our guide asked “Are there any questions before we start?”, a mother shot up her arm, waving an envelope, and shouted “I need to find a mailbox!” She then turned to her daughter and asked loudly “Did I embarrass you?”, and following her daughter’s loud silence said, to no-one in particular, “I think I embarrassed her.” None of the other parents was bold enough to offer her reassurance, so fearful were we that we would be the next to mortify our offspring, because we knew our mere presence was embarrassment enough.

3. Every school library boasts a Harry Potter room. I don’t know what this means, not having read the series nor seen the rooms, but I imagine even the most modern library buildings have a Gothic styled room with dim lighting, study carrels, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. And don’t worry if the campus library doesn’t have the particular book you need because it’s part of an inter-galactic system that will find the book among a collection of 200 million volumes and beam it to you in just two days. The library is also a great place to borrow movies (Bridesmaids!) for free.

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8 Responses to 3 things I learned from too many college tours

  1. Oh good luck with that! I have a 14 year old already thinking about college. I’m sure our tour in a couple years will be identical to yours now and the one I did six years ago with my son. He’s thinking about grad school now but I don’t think the embarrassing parents tag along on that one. Are you on the east coast or west… or in the middle? Don’t forget to take deep breaths!

  2. I love this post. I hope your daughter takes number 1 to heart. I’m a junior (finance major) at a large state university and I’ve spent all year searching for internships. Every recruiter, and I mean every one, wants to see leadership experience on the resume. Thankfully I got my act together last year and scraped together an exec board position for my business fraternity and therefore an internship, but I regret not diving into more activities sooner. Everything is so new Freshman year that sometimes clubs get lost in the mix. She should really keep her eyes open for something she’s interested in and get heavily involved asap. It’ll make her college experience much better.

    P.S. Number 2 is absolutely true. I gave a few tours at my university and I had one mom stop the whole tour four five minutes to figure out if another student went to high school with her niece because she recognized the high school’s logo on his hoodie. I thought her son might cry.

  3. I’m enjoying your posts and hoping to encourage you to write more by nominating you for the Liebster Blog Award… no pressure!

  4. My daughter is a sophomore in high school so we get to do the whirlwind college tour next year, and I am absolutely certain that I will be the mom embarassing her kid. My husband and I still have astronomical bills from our own recent graduate degrees, so I have no idea how we’ll pay for her college tuition as well, but we’ll juggle. My big question is – how do our mute high schoolers transform into cheerful, overachieving, puddle-hopping college freshman in only a year? I can’t wait to see that transition!

    • Hi very VERY busy mom – I hope you don’t mind me putting in my two cents (dollars?) here. I watched my fairly shy and head-in-the-clouds kid suddenly turn up the volume when he hit junior year, and even more so, senior year. Sometimes they just “get it” – and just in time. Maybe it’s sensing that with the final push, they’re that much closer to college which usually means freedom.

      It was amazing to see the transformation. And I saw it not only in my own kid, but his friends. Pretty cool stuff. (And as for scholarships / loans, be sure to talk to your child’s guidance counselor. Sometimes they know of programs we wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. Ours certainly did.)

      Wishing you luck with the process!

  5. kimtb says:

    Well, you know, we are on the tail end of that. Just came back from Spring Visit at Oregon State. We raised our kids in Davis and Kate went to UBC in Vancouver, BC. and Alex is headed to Corvallis. Both very different girls and very different experiences. My advice (not that you asked for it) is to help your child know themselves, so they can identify what fits for them. I’ve loved this process (right now she’s doing the computer roommate matching scheme, like online dating…very different, and kind of cool too). I don’t know what your daughter is looking for, but there is lots of red brick at OSU and plenty of financial support. Email me if you want more info. And good luck! Kim

  6. What an interesting post. My younger son just came home from his freshman year at college. Actually, we didn’t do the whirlwind campus tour, though many of my kids’ friends did exactly that. In fact, the first time my son saw the college he is attending was when I moved him in, last August.

    Over achievement as the new black.

    Yes. It starts so young. Too young. I wonder how and why and when, exactly, we did this to them. And to ourselves.

    I have two in college now, and it’s both fascinating and wearing (in a different way). More than anything, it’s a relief. I no longer have to see the worry or feel it on a daily basis. The pressure to “get into college” and with a scholarship at that. And I know they’re learning and living a broader set of (social) experiences as well. As it should be.

    Maybe we should all lighten up a little (though it’s easier said than done, and I know that). There are many places our kids can have a good experience at school. I think it’s taken seeing both of my sons in very different environments to realize that.

    Much food for thought here.

    • My oldest finished her junior year yesterday – if I wrote a blog post on the current environment and pressures our high schoolers face it would be a rant! We’ve walked a fine line this year between pushing her to do her personal best and keeping everything in perspective. It’s hard!

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