The College Road Trip

Many of you are heading out on your first college road trips. Here coauthor Christine VanDeVelde remembers her first college visits with her daughter: A few years ago, my daughter and I ventured forth on a short tour.  We managed to walk the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville, Tennessee, in the middle of what they call a “dogwood winter” – the trees are blossoming as temperatures plummet. We then flew north to Chicago, just in time for an epic snowstorm that closed O’Hare for a day and a half. After trudging along the campus on the edge of Lake Michigan in ballet flats, we holed up in an Evanston hotel, bundled in our new Northwestern sweats watching Pay-per-View movies. My husband took the next trip that summer – Lehigh, Yale, Boston University, Dartmouth, and Cornell -- where they had to buy new shoes to accommodate  the amount of walking they did but enjoyed much better weather and a side trip to Legally Blonde on Broadway. Despite blisters, traffic jams and inclement weather, we found these road trips to be peak parenting experiences – some of the most memorable and enjoyable times we have spent with our daughter. Here’s our advice for parents on how to make highlights happen on your college road trips –with a bonus tip for students on smoothing the path: First and foremost, read our lips— it’s the student! There is a role for parents— as observers and sounding boards. You’re there to support your teen and help her interpret her reactions. But the student should be the decision maker on all things— from which colleges to visit to when to stop at Starbucks. Part of the magic here is in recognizing that one of these colleges is going to be your teenager’s world, not yours. So act like a helpful houseguest the whole time. It will be enjoyable because it’s appropriate. Your son or daughter will be grateful and may respond by rising to the occasion. Here’s some more advice for surviving— and thriving— on the road. • Do support your teen’s choices about where and when to visit colleges. • Don’t get territorial. Traveling in close quarters can cause friction. Apply our first rule here, too, by letting the student pick the music in the car, the TV shows in the hotel room, and the restaurants where you eat. • Do leave the siblings at home if possible. The trip is about your college- bound teen, and she is anxious. Leaving siblings at home will enable a student to explore a campus in- depth to determine if she will thrive there. • Don’t go to war with a student over attending an info session or tour if his gut instinct tells him this college isn’t going to stay on the list— even if it’s just ten minutes after you’ve driven onto campus. • Do make your student keep any interview appointments that have been set up even if she’s vetoed the tour. It’s common courtesy. • Do encourage your teenager to give a school another chance if he otherwise really likes a college but has found the personality of a single human being— such as a surly receptionist— to be off- putting. • Do let the student do the talking at the info session, on the tour, and during any downtime on campus. • Don’t use the question- and answer session to brag about your teenager’s accomplishments. The admission officer is not taking notes. • Do let students— all students, not just your son or daughter— go first with their questions. Feel free to make your own inquiries about campus safety, Internet access, or season football tickets, but only after it is clear that no student is going to ask these questions. • Do consider taking a separate tour from the one your teenager is on, if possible. Or let him wander campus alone after the official tour. It may provide a comfort zone for her to ask questions or strike up conversations she otherwise wouldn’t. • Don’t monopolize the tour guide’s time. Stay to the back of the group and let the students speak to the tour guide between stops. That’s a time when they can ask more personal questions about campus social life or the economics department. • Do treat all the students in the tour group as the tour’s “priority.” Let all the students walk first into that cramped dorm room to take a look around. • Don’t ask the tour guide what he scored on the SAT. He will not tell you. • Don’t tell the tour guide the number of APs your son takes, his test scores, and his grades, and then ask her to weigh in on his chances of admission. She does not know! • Do turn your cell phone or BlackBerry off. • Do think about a budget for the big impulse buys of the college road trip—T-shirts and hoodies. Really, what are you going to do with all of them? • Do remind your son or daughter that the right school is out there and they will discover one another. And, students, here’s some advice for you: Lighten up! Every gesture or comment that your parent makes isn’t nearly as awful to everybody else as it is embarrassing to you. Do not scold, roll your eyes at, or pick a fight with your parents at any time during or after the information session or tour. Cut your parents a break. It’s only fair. Finally, don't condemn yourself to fast food and takeout, check out our Gourmet Guide here. We've got the recommendations of alumni and admission staff about where to find the best pizza, coffee, artisanal food, and locally made ice cream at a number of colleges. More destinations are being added weekly!  

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