COLLEGE VISIT: That $250K Feeling

Natalie Lehigh

My second, Natalie Martin, @Lehigh University, 1 of 18 college visits.

Recently I was on the phone with a parent who stated, with a mixture of disbelief and incredulousness, “It all comes down to a feeling my kid gets in 15 minutes. This decision (choosing a college) will impact his entire life and costs a quarter of a million dollars, and it is made on a feeling.”

I responded, “Yes, and that feeling is often disproportionately influenced by your tour guide and the level of caffeine in your teen’s bloodstream.” She laughed a little nervously, and in my mind I could see her shaking her head, strongly considering hanging up with me and then either going back to bed or taking the dog for a walk—because those things are manageable. Giving your teen a critical role in a decision that can cost upwards of $250K, and realizing that decision may very well be based on the feeling your teen gets when he or she steps foot on campus? For many parents, that does not seem manageable. But it can be.

Being mindful of the common pitfalls of the college selection processes and being honest with your gut (and trusting that of your teen!) will help you guide your teen -- and your entire family -- through to the all-important conclusion: choosing the college that is right for your unique child.

Students need to be cautious to not fall into one of these categories when stepping foot on campus.

The Coronator
Warning signs: Overly inquisitive, impatient, excitable, fast talking, clumsy, rapid head movements

Scenario: In the school’s quad, you are looking around to see who is slipping your teen double shots of espresso. Or, maybe you are wondering who kidnapped the kid who was asleep for the 235 miles you just drove. His hand is up, he wants to walk next to the tour guide (close enough that tour guide has to keep stepping aside), and he absolutely must go to the bookstore to purchase a coffee mug, two notebooks, a lanyard, a winter beanie, workout shorts, and, of course, a sweatshirt. Oh—and the long-sleeved tee too. And while you are excited by his enthusiasm (it’s contagious, after all), you hadn’t budgeted $275 for the school’s bookstore.
The fix: Set a bookstore budget ahead of time. If that means $5 for the campus Starbucks—then enjoy the macchiato. It’s complete joy if a student crowns a college that is a profile/reach school that is also affordable. But sometimes all of those factors don’t align. Have your student make a list of all the reasons why this is the perfect school. Then look for those qualities in a handful of other schools. Some students may have similar reactions to many schools. And, among other things, that’ll leave you with many unworn sweatshirts in the house next fall!

The Balker
Warning signs: Disengagement, silence, reluctance, aloofness

Scenario: You may feel as if you are driving to campus with an inflamed saguaro in your passenger seat. Said prickly passenger may refuse to get out of the car once you’ve driven 100 miles to the campus. Triggers may include passing the library seven times looking for the admissions parking lot. However, the Balker may lie dormant and only make a sudden appearance once you are stuck shoulder to shoulder in the admissions office doorway.
The fix: Guide your student with a gentle but firm shove with your palm in their lower back so that s/he signs in at the admissions desk, not you! Say as little as possible during the tour. Model keeping an open mind, and when you have a few minutes alone, let your student start the conversation. S/he usually will—though it may take some time. Be patient, and listen to what it is s/he didn’t like about the school. Remind him or her that knowing what s/he doesn’t like can be just as helpful as knowing what she does.

The Perfectionist 
Warning signs: Overly reserved, critical, skeptical, dismissive, supremely confident
Scenario: The perfectionist can take various forms, but these are generally the types that feel they have all the information they need stored in their heads. They’ve made lists and have their college years mapped out—down to their dorm bedding’s color scheme and how they and their best college buddies will be spending their Thursday evenings. Setting goals and plotting a course to accomplish goals—admirable, wonderful, necessary. Doing so to the point of ruling out every school but one —not so helpful.
The fix: Get your hands on that already-made list, review the priorities and have honest conversations about how there will be pros and cons to every school. Explain that part of the experience of going to college is to be open to new things, thoughts, ideas, and people. It’s one of the primary benefits, actually. The Fiske Guide to Colleges suggests following this mantra: “Two out of three ain’t bad.” Your student may not have heard of Meatloaf, but the saying is more than appropriate. College visits can be incredibly fun and should be incredibly informative. Your gut, as well as your teen’s, has a lot to say. Listen with reason and patience, and you’ll find the right fit.  

Originally Published: 10/13/2014


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