The Seven Steps Of The College Visit

by Barbara Patrick
Originally Published: 

My head is filled with all things college, as my eldest applies this fall and as my friends send children off, many for the first time. I am trying to carefully balance being in the moment while preparing for what lies ahead. For others starting the process, it’ll help to understand the all-important college visit:

Step 1: The Calm Before the Storm

Your child agrees to visit a couple of colleges on a date that you have carefully selected by analysis of the family calendar, taking a day off from work, getting child care for other kids, loading the crockpot and getting someone to walk the dog. You are momentarily thrilled and delusional: Your child apparently cares about his future and values time management!

Step 2: Reality Bites

You inform your child one day ahead of time that you’ll be leaving in the morning. “What?!” he cries. “Tomorrow? But I want to see my girlfriend/sleep ’til noon/play frisbee [insert any other activity of paramount importance to a teen] tomorrow! Why do we have to go? When will we be back? I’ll just apply to those schools without seeing them.”

Step 3: The Big Chill

Whereas you envisioned rare, one-on-one time with your child on the car ride to this college visit filled with chatting and emotional sharing, the reality is that your child will ignore you, look at his phone and sleep, all in an effort to punish you for dragging him on this visit in the first place.

Step 4: Tour Torture

You will likely sit in an information session and then take a campus tour. Do not be shocked when you encounter the most pained and awkward group of people ever to be together in one room. Each child in the room is horrified to be there, convinced they don’t belong there and terrified that their parents might open their mouths and ask questions. I repeat: Do not ask a question about the place where your child might spend the next four years and where you will invest up to $61,000 a year. Do not walk to the front of the tour group in an effort to be able to hear the guide on the tour. That is so embarrassing.

Step 5: The Frantic Finale

The tour officially ends at, let’s say, 1 p.m., so please expect to be in the car heading home by 1:02 p.m. Do not go to the bathroom, do not get a drink of water, and do not visit any part of the campus you did not see on the tour. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t see the gym although your child wants to be a college athlete: Hit the road. Do not introduce yourself to the regional admissions officer who covers your town. Do not check out a local lunch spot and fuel up for the ride home; there’s a McDonald’s on the interstate with a drive-thru. Try to rush out of there in order to be home in time for your teen’s important social event du jour. Oh, but you can swing by the campus bookstore and pick up a quick $75 sweatshirt for your child. Let’s not be too hasty.

Step 6: The Recap

The five-hour ride home is a good time for introspection and meaningful conversation about the school:

You: What did you think?

Child: (grunt)

You: Did you like it?

Child: Ehh.

You: Do you think you’ll apply there?

Child: Maybe.

You: OK, think about it and let me know.

Child: Actually, I really liked the part when the tour guide said final exams are really stressful so there are comfort puppies and a hot chocolate cart and chair massages in the library all night, totally “free.”

Step 7: Exhaustion

You will need three days to recover from this one day of college touring. You will be frustrated about your dedication to the process and commitment to your child’s bright future and their complete lack of interest. Your sciatic nerve will kill from being in the car too long. You will be puffy from eating crappy fast food. You will come home to the fallout of being away from home for a day. You will cover a large spectrum of emotions from the thought of your child leaving home and worrying if he will be ready and if he will find the right place for him. You will repeat this process at least 10 more times over the course of a year.

Amendment: Of course, this is exaggerated and meant to poke fun at a tough process, and the first kid of the family may or may not be tortured by an overzealous, anxious parent who may or may not start the process before the child is ready (wink, wink). Good luck!

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