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The College Road Trip: It is a Trip!

College…road…trip… three words, that when combined provoke a mix of conflicting emotions. In the 2008 movie, “College Road Trip,” starring Raven Symone’ and Martin Lawrence, the trials and rewards of this fast developing phenomenon are humorously explored. Lawrence wrestles with his desire to keep his baby girl close to home while Symone’ struggles to break free and explore the wonders of the real world. Though the movie is filled with plenty of laughs, it does shed light on the fact that the college road trip is in and of itself a developmental milestone filled with mixed emotions for parents and students alike.

Rising seniors and their parents are beginning to discuss visits to college campuses now that spring is around the corner. Students look at the college road trip as the first step toward the reality of their impending independence. Having witnessed the experiences of their senior peers, high school sophomores and juniors relish the opportunity to finally partake in this rite of passage. After all, how amazing is it to be traveling with the sole purpose of finding the home where she will be spending the next four years of her life, free from parental supervision? What could be better than an entire trip centered on meeting one’s own needs? Oftentimes students see the college campus trips as the one time when their parents will finally be forced to listen to what it is the kids want. With everyone cooped up in the car, Mom and Dad can’t possibly escape the litany of demands that are coming their way, right?

Hit the brakes, kids. College visits are meant to educate not only your parents but you as well. As awesome as you’ve heard Fabulous University is, it may or may not be the right fit for you. Too often students have a misconception of what they should prioritize when it comes to looking for a college. If a school is not located near a major shopping mall or does not have a cool mascot, that college gets prematurely eliminated from the list of contenders. In order to make the most of one’s college visit, a student needs to be an educated consumer. What does he want to major in and do the schools on his list have strong programs in these areas? How far away does he want to be from home and what climate does he want to reside in? What social opportunities is he looking for and can he find these options at these schools? Can is family actually afford to send him to that school?

While some students may be overly anxious to take off on this excursion, others dread it. It might not just be the threat of being cooped up in the family car that sends their hearts into a life-threatening pace. Some students do not know what they want to major in let alone what they want to do professionally. The onslaught of facts and figures that accompany college tours and information sessions only serve to further upset and stress these individuals. Oftentimes these students will start to formulate a better idea of what they are looking for in a school by visiting a variety of campuses. Schools that vary by size, proximity to a major city, and geographical location can help students to better conceptualize the ideal campus.

Just as there is mixed sentiment among students about campus visits, parents have their own conflicting mix of feelings as well. For many parents, the college road trip marks the beginning of the inevitable: their baby is getting ready to leave the nest. If they were unaware of it before, there is no avoiding the fact that eighteen years passes incredibly too quickly when it comes to child rearing. Wasn’t it just yesterday when he was dragging himself across the floor in an attempt to learn how to walk? Didn’t she just lose that first tooth the other night? How could this child be old enough to leave for college? Furthermore, how on earth are the parents supposed to help their son or daughter manage this process as the college admissions landscape has evolved into an unrecognizable beast over the course of the past twenty years?

But in spite of the potential dread and bundle of nerves, there is a buzz of excitement in the air. It is so rewarding to see one’s child take initiative to advocate for himself in the form of making appointments to visit college campuses, arranging interviews with Admissions counselors, and talking with peers who attend colleges that peak their interest. For the first time, he is in charge of the travel plans and Mom and Dad get to sit back and watch as the plan develops, only offering their assistance or perspective where it is warranted. It is one of many experiences in which the parents get to learn firsthand about their child’s interests, passions, and strengths and conversely, Junior may have the opportunity to learn a thing or two about Mom and Dad. It is during these road trips when conversations that usually cannot take place amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life may help create some of your most precious memories of your son or daughter.

Pack your bags; grab some food for the road and witness the beauty our country has to offer. The chances are slim that your college road trip will be as dramatic or action-packed as that of Martin Lawrence. But I do promise you that it has the potential to bring you and your child closer to one another, enabling you to celebrate each other as well as the relationship you share.


College Admission and the Perfect Fit

On a recent trip to the King of Prussia Mall, you were filled with enthusiasm. Mission? Find a pair of jeans that was both fashionable and functional. Enter Store #1: The ambiance is hip with the music booming overhead, sales people dressed in chic garb, and lights strategically aimed at this week’s hottest trends hanging on the wall. A display of jeans catches your eye and just when you are sure you have found your dream pair of denim duds, your hopes are vanquished in the confines of the dressing room. While the tush and hips fit perfectly, the legs extend five inches too long, leaving you to appear like an acid-washed sea lion. In the dressing room of the third clothing store, you are shocked to discover that the jeans you are currently sampling are the perfect fit. “How could this be” you ask your reflection in the mirror. These jeans are just as fashionable as those in the first store, they fit like a glove, and they are a fraction of the cost. Ah, but therein lies a valuable lesson in the world of shopping: sometimes what glitters and is popular doesn’t quite fit.

The college admissions season is upon us once again and while many students don’t recognize the parallels, it is the daddy of all shopping sprees. Just as you were looking for the jeans with the perfect fit, so too should high school juniors and seniors be looking for the school that best fits their needs and interests. It’s so easy to get caught up in the name-brand colleges. They have the glitz, glamour, and universal appeal. Year after year the number of applications far surpasses the number of available spots in the freshman class. Last fall, a record 34,950 students applied to Harvard. A measly 6.2% were offered admission. Ladies and gentleman, while I do not dispute the value of an Ivy League education, I will respectfully submit that students are misguided if their only variable in their college search is prestige.

Think about it folks: if your child goes to Prestigious University and the only factor that benefits her is the name, what good does that do her? If the school does not offer her major; if she is socially isolated from her peers because she has little in common with them; if she hates the climate because it is too cold; what did she really gain by attending this school? What value did it really bring her? Every cloud has a silver lining and perhaps the benefit of this situation would be the development and utilization of coping skills. But wouldn’t it be far more desirable and valuable to attend a school that really and truly meets one’s needs?

I think we would all agree that it is a tall order to expect that a 17 or 18 year-old would have a definitive idea of what it is he is looking for in a college. Sure, he might know that his girlfriend is applying to this school or that one. He might know that the school has a winning football record and that the annual garlic festival is an event not to be missed. Some students do come to my office and have a clear idea of what they want in a college: small campus located near a major city; access to professors; specific religious community; learning support; honors program; and less emphasis on Greek life. But how can we expect them to truly know what it is like to live on these campuses for four years?

While we cannot provide them with a crystal ball about their impending college experience, we can provide them with the tools to become an informed consumer. With the advent of Facebook and virtual tours (www.youniversity.com) it has become easier for students to get a feel for the colleges they are considering. College visits –even over the summer- are a great way to meet with Admissions folks, current students, and professors and learn firsthand about life on campus. Knowing what questions to ask Admissions counselors, financial aid officers, religious groups, and the student support centers is a critical component of making an informed decision. Keeping a running log of these visits for purposes of comparison is also important. After several visits, college campuses start to look alike.

A college education is an investment of time, money, and effort. With the increase in the cost of college tuition, now more than ever, it is critical for students and their families to do due diligence and research the colleges before applying to the schools. There is too much to lose in not doing so and far too much to gain by putting in the time it would take to determine whether these schools are the best fit.

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