It’s almost spring break! You may not have tons of time to do college tours with your junior or sophomore, so here’s a guaranteed way to knock out two birds with one stone.

All you need to do is say, “Hey, why don’t we sneak in a college visit during spring break?”

Just to be clear, the two “birds” are a college visit and R&R, not a cacophony of groans from your 16-year-old and the rest of your family. (Though that might happen, too.)

My family and I just spent time in Florida two weeks ago (I miss it already!). As we whiled away the hours in the Everglades, I considered how it would be so easy to take advantage of your proximity to great colleges.

Here are some top tips to make it happen and a few things you may want to consider. 

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1. Call in advance — a week is great! 

Colleges have to prepare for your visit. I recommend calling at least a week ahead of your chosen visit date. It gives the campus visit coordinator a chance to create the best visit possible for you. Remember, in most cases, there’s a person at the other end of the line who puts the visit together for your son or daughter — not a robot. 

I recommend talking to a live person over the phone instead of submitting college tour requests online. That way, you can talk through your options with an admission office staff member.

Now, I understand that college visits can happen on the fly. You may be in the car, see a sign for College XYZ and suddenly, your daughter says, “Oh, my gosh, Mom! I’ve always wanted to look at that school! Stop THE CAR!”

You can arrive on the admission office’s doorstep unannounced — but remember, your options may be limited. At the very least, many colleges can give you a tour and arrange for you to meet with an admission counselor. You might be out of luck if you want to meet a specific microbiology professor on the fly, however. It’s best to plan ahead and give the admission office a heads up a week ahead — or even more advance notice.

2. Find out whether a college’s spring break coincides with your vacation plans.

This is so important! When I worked in college admission, we were open during spring break. You could take college tours, eat in the cafeteria, meet with an admission counselor and anyone else who might’ve stuck around during the week. If a family called in and wanted to visit campus during spring break, I’d always suggest, “Come on a different week if you can.” 

A good chunk of professors spent spring break thousands of miles away (donning shorts or safari hats) and coaches disappeared (particularly baseball and softball coaches, who always made a beeline for warmer locales).

Worst of all, the campus was dead. Far from the bustling hive it usually was, the only activity you’d encounter was from a couple of nesting geese. 

3. Decide what you’d like to do on your visit.

It’s okay not to know exactly what your high schooler’s visit might look like when you call in. It’s the campus visit coordinator’s job to talk you through your options. Colleges often don’t offer a comprehensive overview of your options. It’s common to hear a chipper greeting, then, “Sure, you can visit! What would you like to do?” Some general options at almost any college or university include:

  • Admission counselor meeting
  • Campus tour (make sure you ask for a tour with a current student!)
  • Professor meeting or presentation
  • Financial aid officer meeting
  • Coach meeting
  • Lunch on campus

It’s obvious that there are more options out there than these, but it’s up to the campus visit coordinator or admission counselor to talk you through them. The only thing you can do is tell the admission office what your son’s or daughter’s interests are and ask a lot of questions if you’re not getting what sounds like the perfect visit for your child. 

A liberal arts college or smaller university will try to make your visit feel as personalized as possible. This means you could get a one-on-one tour and individual meetings with everyone you request to meet. 

On the other hand, some universities will execute all of these opportunities in a group setting, so don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re in a herd of sheep throughout the visit. 

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4. Arrange for transportation.

Okay, this seems obvious, right? But you could overlook it, particularly when you’re used to having your kid-friendly SUV handy at all times. You may not need to rent a car when an airport shuttle whisks you off to an all-inclusive hotel. 

Get an Uber or Lyft from the hotel to the college, particularly if it’s close. Looking at a two-hour trek? Find out if you can arrange a rental car through your hotel for just a day, or be creative with the arrangements. Maybe a friend you know from college lives in the area and would love to drive you to your college visit! Maybe your great-aunt lives two towns over and can’t wait for your son to tour her alma mater. 

5. Decide whether a full day is too much.

Remember, you’re on vacation. You might need to stick a meeting with the college dietician on the back burner during this visit — unless it’s a critical component of the college decision. 

Also consider whether your whole family needs to tag along. If you have much-younger children, consider the wisdom of having them stay back. They’ll be much happier cannonballing into the pool. 

Why not split your family up for an afternoon, if it’s feasible? One adult family member could stay behind with the kids. Otherwise, many hotels offer kiddie day camps for your younger children. Younger kids might love palling around with hotel kiddie camp staff while you and your high schooler do a college visit.

6. Limit visits to one college, especially if your vacation is the focal point. 

College tours — plural — may not be the best idea if you want to enjoy your vacation. It’s a different story if you intend to only do college visits during spring break. In that case, knock yourself out — though it’s a good idea to limit the number of visits you accomplish. It’s easy to get confused if you take on too many. 

I used to give college tours twice a day during Iowa Private College Week, a week in August in which students and families could choose any private college in Iowa to visit. They could choose any private college or university to tour during morning or afternoon sessions. Some families did all ten sessions during that week — that meant two college visits per day! By the end of it, their heads were swimming: Which college offered program X? Which college had the baseball coach with the funny moustache? Was College X’s music program better than College Y’s? Do you even remember where we were that day??

Unless a school really stood out, it was all a shimmery mass by the time they finished up.  

7. Save the debrief till later.

Your kiddo wants to get back to surfing Huntington Beach or hiking the Sierra Nevadas. But be sure to talk with him about the college visit later. Take notes — record your first impressions as well as the school’s pros and cons. Once vacation concludes and your college visit is a (hopefully!) nice memory, you’ll have some fun things to talk about once you get home.

Schedule a great spring break college visit

You might need to schedule college tours during two years of spring breaks because there’s just… no… time! Your phone calendar’s bursting, your student’s high school schedule is hairy. Plus, your junior or sophomore might have a long list of college tours he needs to tackle. 

Maybe you’ve chosen the vacation before you considered the schools in the area — and those colleges aren’t quite what you’re looking for. (There aren’t too many colleges in the Keys, where my family and I were vacationing.) However, you might want some college visit “practice.” Who knows? That school could end up being the best school possible for your son or daughter.

You may even need to resort to making a deal with your high schooler. (He might be totally resistant to a boogie board interruption.) Think up a reward if it’s feasible — something along the lines of, “If we do this college visit on Tuesday, I promise, we’ll go ziplining on Friday.”

Have a great (and safe!) spring break! 

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