Well we have finally started college touring in a big way. We had visited two local colleges this Fall, but last week we packed the car and headed to beautiful Southern California to explore seven universities - two University of California (UC) campuses and five small, private liberal arts colleges we had learned about from friends, online or from our college counselor!
We had maps, instructions about how to get the most out of a three hour visit, and appointments for the tours and information sessions at each college! We even had reservations at Disneyland for the last couple of days as the bribe for the younger sibling who will happily report at school Monday that she spent Spring Break 2009 driving 1,300 miles with her sister and mom!
Our first stop was UC Santa Barbara, which both kids loved, and the nearly 14 year-old sibling was surprisingly into the whole process. After the visit she said: "Wow - I actually learned a lot about what colleges look for in your application - especially how you spent your high school years. It was a head start to preparing for college."
The younger one also said that "walking around the campus gave me a sense of what it would be like to live and study there. Were there lots of bikes, were people friendly, was it possible to get from one end of campus to the other quickly, how was the food, what were dorms like, and where do students live? At UC Santa Barbara it was cool that 13,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25 live in a one mile by 1.5 miles area near campus!"
We all thought that the tours were more interesting than the information sessions, and the students gave you a lot of information about living on campus. For example, we learned on one campus, only males are given first floor rooms, and the best dorms are what they call suites, and include common rooms and a bathroom shared by multiple rooms.
One campus gave us lunch vouchers, and we learned that campus food means having to make good decisions about nutrition when faced with ice cream, fries, chocolate milk machines, soda, and a dessert bar - at every meal. Salads and small portions must be an important part of the college experience. After eating in the cafeteria, they both understood why "freshman 15" could be a problem!
Class sizes were really a "make it or break it" for my kids. The tour guide at UC San Diego said his GED classes could be up to 400 students, which she remembered as 700 people in a class - either way - way to many students! The small, private colleges on the other hand, reported the largest classes were about 35 and at one campus, there was a one-month quarter during which most students take classes in other countries!
From the mom perspective, I am really glad that we saw these campuses. I had been a little ambivalent - some people say just visit the colleges your kids get into, and others say visit before you apply, so I was a little confused. What I learned is that a visit really makes it clear to the potential student that s/he does (or does not) want to apply. My junior fell in love with one college I never knew existed, for reasons we did not know even mattered.
I really encourage families to pack it up and head on out to college tours - I bet you will be glad you did - and do not forget to schedule something fun for the younger ones - they learn a lot but walk a lot, too - and some get a little bored with the whole "do we have to talk more about college" theme.
Summer will bring a second tour through colleges in the Pacific Northwest - and then the applications begin! Gee, I cannot wait!