What should parents do during campus visits?
Campus visits are exciting for both students and parents. They can also be stressful, especially if travel and/or multiple campus visits during short time frames are involved. To minimize parent/child conflict and help make the visit valuable to the whole family, parents should help kids prepare for campus visits, organize logistics, and then take a calm, objective backseat.
Before the visit, spend some time with your student to make a list of what she wants to see, do, and find out about while visiting. Help her make a list of questions to ask and a prioritized plan of what she'd most like to accomplish at each campus; when you start to run out of time on a visit (and you always do) it's much easier to just hit your top three tasks or locations than it is to squabble over what you each think is most important.
If there are things you'd like to do on the visit that don't make it onto your student's list, ask her if she's comfortable with you adding a few items. Be flexible. If you're dying to check out the athletic facilities at each school but your student has absolutely no interest in sports of any kind, agree to go your own ways for part of the visit: You visit the sports complex while she explores one of her top choices.
It makes sense that parents will probably organize travel arrangements for campus visits. Because students are likely to be overwhelmed by the experience of touring, it can also be helpful for parents to take care of scheduling tours, obtaining maps, and even helping to identify key locations on that map in advance. Again, be flexible. If your student becomes enthralled by a particular location or decides she wants to see something on the spur of the moment, don't insist she stick to your original plan.
While it may be tough, the most important thing parents can do to support kids during campus visits is give them space. Think back to the time when your student was a toddler, and was starting to venture out on the playground alone, but still made frequent checks over her shoulder to be sure mom or dad was still right behind her. Things aren't so different now. Your kid wants to independently check out the place she might call home for the next four years, but she also wants to know you're there for her. Ask her how you can help during the visit. When she seems uncertain, confused or stressed about what to do or where to go next, ask if she'd like some suggestions or if it might be a good time to grab lunch or a coffee and regroup before continuing. Let her know that you have confidence in her ability to handle the visit on her own, but you're there to share in her excitement and discovery, and to provide advice and support if she needs it.
You're bound to have opinions about schools, to make judgments about some things and get really jazzed about others. Unless your student asks, keep your criticisms and enthusiasms to yourself. The college your kid chooses needs to fit her, not you. Even though she'd likely rather die than let you know it, your opinions do influence her and matter to her. Try not to throw more variables into her decision-making process or color her views of a particular school by being too vocal with your own thoughts and feelings.
While it's fine to ask questions during information sessions, if your student schedules a meeting with an admissions officer, don't tag along. If you have specific questions, ask your kid if you can write them down for her to ask during the meeting. She may ask your questions; she may not. If she doesn't, let it go. You're bound to be able to find the information you're seeking elsewhere. What matters most is that she gets her questions answered, and that she goes to the meeting not as your child, but as a college bound young adult.
While she's in admissions, head over to the student union and buy her a school sweatshirt. She may end up with ten different sweatshirts from colleges she doesn't ultimately attend, but for the next year or so, they'll be a reminder of the visits you made together, and of all the possibilities that await her after high school.