Wednesday’s Parent: Collegecations

Take a collegecation, Photo by Philip Taylor

Take a collegecation, Photo by Philip Taylor

If you enjoy mixing business with pleasure then you are going to love visiting colleges. It’s the best way to check student-college fit and get a vacation. I call the trip a collegecation (family vacay + college visit).

Why visit
You wouldn’t buy a house or car without checking it out so why wouldn’t you be a good consumer about another expensive purchase? Colleges are in the business of education and the product they offer are campuses, housing, food, courses, other students, professors, programs, activities, job/grad placement records, retention rates and other stats in a specific location. It’s going to be up to the student to use what’s available while earning a degree. During a collegecation, students can see what the opportunities are and how they relate to the best chance of future success.

Three part plan
It’s time to take your college list on the road and plan your collegecation. Get ready to pack your bags with a camera (or a smartphone), comfortable walking shoes and school appropriate clothes.

1. Select a time
Decide how much time you have for your collegecation and when you are going. Determine how many schools you can visit on this road trip by allotting at least day and a half at each college location plus your travel time to get there. (Refer to Step Three for best travel dates).

2. Choose the Schools
Go to your college list. Choose the schools you want to visit in one geographic area given the amount of time you have (see Step 1).

3. Plot the Course
Take out a map (real or virtual) and mark off each chosen college’s location. Plan the trip like a road trip vacation; make note of attractions and special events along the way, in the area of each school, and on campus. Many schools offer free or low cost museums, library and academic collections, hiking trails, gardens, lectures, concerts, theater and sporting events. Also list best dates, prices and reservations needed. Include a fave activity for all collegecation participants.

Check out college and tourist websites for info about what’s happening on and off-campus and details about the area, lodging and restaurants.

Before you go, let the school know of the student’s interest in visiting. Better yet have him make the call to reserve a spot for the family on an information session and college tour.

He can also pre-arrange a solo on campus experience. Your student may have an interview, attend a class, shadow a current student, or spend an overnight with a current student, depending on what the college offers. This will also give the rest of the family some downtime.

Here are some major tips, once you are on the road:

  • Before you go Brainstorm questions your student can ask the interviewer, tour guide, current students, admissions and other college staff. Colleges expect their students to be mature and independent so prepare your child to take the lead.
  • On the way Before stepping one foot on campus, check out the surrounding area. Is it rural, suburban or urban? Does the student like what she sees? She should record her initial impressions and feel free to take photos. As for you, are there places to stay and restaurants to eat when you come for an extended college visit?
  • On campus As you enter the campus, observe the details and make mental note. What are current students doing? Are they smiling, interacting, studying? How does the campus look? Is it well-maintained and easily navigated? Eat in the cafeteria to try out the food. Toss a ball in the college quad for fun. Attend the planned college activities and roam around speaking to staff and students. Does your student feel like it could be home for the next few years? Take more photos to remember which school is which and to revive memories about the visit.
  • Have fun A collegecation wouldn’t be a vacay without some fun activities, downtime and personal space. Take advantage of enjoying while learning more about the college and surrounding community.
  • Before you leave Have your student take a second look. Has her opinion changed? After a good night’s sleep and time to absorb the experience, return to the campus to spend some more time. Have your student take a last look around. Is her final say a school yea or nay?

Read Suzanne’s blog for her take on college visits.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start.

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