College Shopping Trip

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While I resist the thought that I’m getting older, I am at a point where I’m travelling to find a suitable college for my youngest son. The older son knew what he wanted but the younger wants to see it all before he decides. The past few weeks have taken us from New Hampshire to Maryland with many quick stops between. As an amateur photographer, I have to get a photo record of every school and I’ve found that this helps my son remember what he likes and dislikes about each one.

Travelling this way requires some careful planning as many colleges have tours and presentations only on Fridays or Saturdays. Some have only tours on Saturdays and all require reservations which can be done online. It is important not to set too high expectations for what can be seen in a given day or in a weekend. For instance, we visited Tufts, Boston College, Boston University and finally Dartmouth all in two days. We left on Thursday night and stayed in hotels close to the colleges. This minimized our time to get to the tours and enabled us to take earlier tours when offered. The times of the tours will normally dictate when you can go and how much you can see in a day. Even so, this is a frantic pace and really left us no time to eat or rest between tours. We brought snacks gleaned from the hotel’s buffet breakfast.

We’ve opted for a driving tour and I think that matches most college shoppers well. Many kids will have an ideal or a target school that may require a flight. Those who don’t, I think, all have the same philosophy. They want to be far enough away that Mom & Dad can’t stop by for a visit but close enough to come home for a good meal or to have their laundry done by caring hands.

Most of the schools have student-led tours and I would encourage prospective students to stay close and get to know the guides personally. My son seemed very interested in whether each school had an Ultimate Frisbee team (that seems to be the deciding factor). He did also get a sense of school life by asking one-on-one questions of the guides.

In general, I could’ve skipped the presentations. Many of the films were outdated and the speakers were not at all polished. It does take something special to convince prospective parents to dole out $50K a year. Although many of the presenters are admissions counselors, and could see your child’s application so they may be worth an introduction. All the presenters offered their email addresses to students so they could answer questions later. They are sincerely interested in maintaining contact through the decision process. The best presenter by far was at Johns Hopkins. He claimed to be an amateur comedian. He had me in stitches for an hour (not worth the $50K though)

Our search will end up taking about 6 weekends when finished. I suppose that is normal as we will have seen over 20 schools and have decided on the “reach” and “safety” schools as well as the schools that are completely out of the running. My son hated the Dartmouth tour guides by the way (“Too happy”?).

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by David Elwood

David Elwood is an avid scuba diver, leisure traveler and cancer survivor. He has traveled extensively to witness the wonderful things the world has to offer . His latest hobby, travel photography, continues to take him to faraway places.

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