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By Gabrielle. Remember this photo? It’s Ben Blair and I on the day we graduated from college. I was very pregnant and Ralph was born a week or so later.

Okay, Friends. I need some advice. It’s our Spring Break this week and as I mentioned, we are heading out on a California campus tour tomorrow morning. The whole family is going, and we imagine the younger kids will get tired of campus visits pretty quickly, so we’re calling it a campus tour/ice cream tour. We’re hoping to visit 7 universities, and we’ll seek out the 7 best ice cream shops we can find. : ) We’ve also promised to work in lots of visits to the beach!

But back to the advice. The whole campus tour concept isn’t exactly new-to-me — I remember moving back East and realizing it was almost a rite of passage for many families. But it’s something I’ve never done before and I don’t know a single person from my hometown that went on campus visits or college tours. When I graduated from high school, it seems like 99% of my fellow university bound students went to the local college. And then there were a few of us who went north to Brigham Young University or University or Utah. Virtually no one left the state for school and I don’t remember anyone thinking very hard about where they would go to college.

I imagine that has changed now, but still, I’m left with very little personal experience in this area. The good news is that we’ve always liked exploring campuses with the kids and have done so wherever we’ve lived or visited, so we’re not complete novices. Usually, we walk around campus, and maybe visit the museum or the library. We check out the student center and peek in a classroom. We eat something at a university café or cafeteria. But that’s about it. We generally don’t have a specific goal other than hoping our kids will feel at home in a campus environment.

But this trip seems different. There’s more of a definite purpose to these visits. They feel weightier and less touristy. The whole thing is very exciting to us and we want to make the most of it! So I’ve got questions for you. First of all, did you get the chance to go to college? If yes, what was choosing a school like for you? Did most people in your area stick close to home? Did your parents take you on a college tour? Did you think long and hard about where you wanted to go?

Second, if you’ve done a multi-campus tour with your own kids, what did you find most helpful? Did you take an official guided tour at each stop, or wander on your own? How much time did you spend on campus? Did your kids’ area of study affect what they wanted to see on each campus? What if your child was undecided as far as a major goes? In addition to cost, what were the biggest factors that determined college choices for your kids: area of study? geography? dorms? social life? something else entirely? Is the visit mostly about getting a feel for the campus and helping your kids imagine themselves there? Did your kids end up picking a school from the tour, or did the choose a campus they hadn’t visited before?

If you were going again, what would you hope to get out of it? What other advice do you have for us? What questions should we be asking?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! I know some of you have kids that have just gone through similar experiences, and I know other readers are still in college and can remember their campus tours like it was yesterday (because it practically was!). I can’t wait to learn from all of you.

Happy Spring Break!

P.S. — Both of our oldest kids have been getting mailings from universities for years now. So many different schools! And more than half of them I haven’t even heard of. It’s no surprise to me that people often use geography to narrow the list of choices. It’s overwhelming!