Summer school break is just around the corner and for families of teens that means the inevitable road trip of college tours. College tours are a great way to see if the school is a potential hit or miss for your child. Some kids like the traditional old school pomp and circumstance while others are cool with the fractious energy that comes with libertarian ideas and grass roots activism. Getting a ground-up view of the campus quad will show you the personality of the school, faculty and student body that brochures and web sites can’t.
The Interview: Most international students apply to a maximum of ten colleges. Plan your route so you can tour at least four to five colleges, including what high school counselors refer to as the “safety school”. This is the school most likely to accept the student amongst all the colleges.
As personal interviews with the admissions officer are the exception not the rule, get the maximum advantage of your visit by making an appointment with college admissions for a private tour or at the minimum, a ten minute meeting with an admissions person. From September to March, colleges from abroad (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Europe) send their admissions staff to Beijing for a series of College Fairs for potential applicants (fairs are typically held at international schools, China World Hotel and Kerry Center). Check with the colleges which dates they’ll be in Beijing and be sure your child introduces themselves to the visiting staff. Get their name card and email them a note later with a request for a future college visit.
The Campus: College tours usually take you to the classrooms, library, gym, cafeteria and other public spaces and last anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. If school is in session some colleges will not show the dorm rooms. If this is the case, go to the freshman dorms and ask one of the residents there if you can see their room; most students are happy to accommodate you. Expect rooms the size of a large walk-in closet (Ka-ching! College dorm rooms qualify as the most expensive real estate around based on the rental per square meter per semester).
On tour, wear comfortable clothes, shoes and bring a drink. Give yourself plenty of time and arrive early as the parking area may be a good 2-3 miles from where the tour begins. Keep a simple journal for your child to mark down their impressions of the college. After the third tour, things from one college blend into the next and they may be mistaken when remembering which parts of which college they liked best. Allow yourself to skip a tour if your spouse can make it. Sometimes a self tour free from the official party line will give you a keener sense of the environment (read the on-site campus and student newspapers). Rent or better yet, buy a GPS to help navigate your way from town to town.
See if any clubs, student unions, Greek houses are in session that your child may be interested in joining. These are good places to get in contact with a current student who may be able to give you a first-hand account of what life is like on campus. Note: Just as parents shouldn’t be “Friends” with their kids on Facebook; have your child make first contact with the undergrads. Helicopter Parents – restrain yourselves!
The Neighborhood: The five mile parameter around the outside of the school is important. Take a walk around the area; grab lunch or a snack at the local deli and see how the natives live. Are grocery stores, restaurants and shops within walking or biking distance? What is the crime rate outside the school walls? Is public transportation available? Will you need to consider the extra expense of a car?
The Money: Last but not least, stop by the finance department to see what scholarships and financial assistance is available; many alumni scholarships and grants are not published on the college websites.
Next week’s blog: College Daze: Part II – Sending Your Child Off to College (Yahoo!)