Parents are important partners in the college search process, so I wish more parents would ask what they should do during a campus visit. I suspect there is a lack of opportunity during the layered steps of the college search.
Believe me, as an admissions professional I want to establish a good relationship with parents. But it’s hard to find the right balance. Not many colleges help parents understand their role and very few of the publications I’ve seen address parents.
So, parents, since your role is so important, here are a few suggestions for ways to keep your student’s best interests at the forefront during a campus visit:
Leave the younger kids at home — Many families think it’s good experience for younger children to visit colleges along with the student going through the college search. I understand the reasoning behind this, but I urge some caution and recommend that parents keep the focus on the student engaged in the college search. Make the visit about them — their questions, their concerns and the excitement you share with them.
Ask your college-bound student a few questions before you go — As a parent, it’s important to think of questions to ask your student before the visit. These don’t have to be profound, but they can serve as touchpoint to make sure you know what your student is thinking. Here are a couple of ideas: What are you looking forward to the most during the visit? Is there something special about this college that you want to check out while you are on campus? Is there anything that makes you nervous about this visit? Do you know anyone from your high school who attends this college?
Let your student take the lead — When the tour begins, it’s your turn to fade into the background and give your student a gentle shove to the front to hear the tour guide and hopefully interact with other prospective students. When a parent buddies up with the tour guide, prospective students suffer, and that includes your student.
Avoid asking an admissions officer, “Did Johnnie tell you xxxxx,” especially in front of Johnnie — There is nothing more awkward than a parent trying to do clean-up for a student by asking the student questions right in front of an admissions officer. To try to prevent this awkward experience, an experienced admissions officer will simply reiterate what was discussed with the student — but not all will. Have confidence that your student will do the right thing, when given the chance, and will talk about what is most important. If you really want your student to emphasize a particular point, include that among your pre-visit discussions, rather than embarrassing your student in front of an admissions counselor.
The call can wait — Nothing takes more attention away from your student than a phone call that you take during their visit. I’ve seen parents take calls on tours, step out of the family conversation following an admissions interview and leave information sessions. I’ve also seen the look of embarrassment on students’ faces when this happens. If possible, leave the cell phone in your pocket and keep the focus on your student.
Teach your student how to shake hands — I am always amazed by how few prospective students know how to offer a firm handshake and look someone in the eyes as they introduce themselves. For Pete’s sake, take some time to teach your student how to make a good first impression with a firm handshake and eye-to-eye contact.
Take time to debrief following the visit — The ride home from a college visit is an important time to try to get an idea about next steps in the process. Before your student falls asleep for the drive, think about asking some questions such as these: What did you like best about your visit? What do you wish you could have done or seen that you were not able to accomplish? Is this a college you continue to be interested in? Should or could we go back for a follow-up? Would you like to stop at your favorite place for dinner tonight?
College admissions officers are not always clear about expectations from parents, but I hope these suggestions will give you a better sense. Admissions officers want more from you than a signed check. The bottom line is that we should be partners, and your student is our real focus.
This is one in a series of short posts in which Kent Barnds will provide honest, candid insight into the college admissions process. Watch for more “True Admissions” from Barnds, and listen to his podcast on this topic.