Here it is, the secret to creating a rich experience: Build relationships during the college search. 

Building relationships will transform you and your child’s college search experience.

Some days, you may think your high school student flat-out has no desire to build relationships with anyone. You may even go as far as to feel sorry for anyone at a college who’s trying to recruit your kid. After all, when’s the last time you’ve seen your kiddo actually take a phone call

Your high schooler grew up with a smartphone at his or her fingertips, had Snapchat before he or she started high school and doesn’t remember the absence of the internet. Everyone knows the paralyzing effect smartphones can have on kids’ ability to communicate and build relationships. (But that’s another topic for another day.)

I remember when admission counselors called my house during high school — they actually called our landline. My parents or brother and sister would yell for me, I’d answer the phone and talk to the admission counselor on the other end of the phone. Crazy, huh?

Nowadays, this happens a lot: Admission counselors who call and text high school students get radio silence in return. Email — might as well forget about it.

But making friends during the college search can have lasting benefits and I’m going to challenge you to help your child do that. Can you and your teen build relationships with as many people as possible during the college search?

It’s so worth it, I promise.

Building Relationships is Key

Okay, so all of this begs the question: Why is it so important to know people, what with so many online research options at your child’s fingertips? 

I’d like to point out one simple thing: Your child is going to have to interact with people during college. The beautiful buildings and nice residence halls don’t really care whether your child likes his professors or whether his work-study supervisor is a kind person. The people make a college experience extraordinary, not the six rock-climbing walls or chocolate pie in the cafeteria.

Meeting people, building relationships and fostering those friendships even after the college search can be transformational. Here are some examples of powerful connections I witnessed at the college where I worked: 

  • Our vice president for enrollment management hosted Thanksgiving at her home several years in a row and invited students she connected with during their college search. (Their hometowns were too far away for them to travel home for a long weekend.)
  • Admission counselors arranged to have dinner with families of students they recruited whenever they were recruiting in the area.
  • The assistant director of financial aid connected with students during the first week of classes to make sure they were thriving. She always encouraged the students to see her whenever they needed something, whether they needed school supplies or even a home-cooked meal.

I talked with the fantastic Anna Dealy, associate director of advancement communication at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She used to work in enrollment at a private liberal arts college. “I had a territory that was a little further away. I met this student and she was a rockstar throughout the admission process and I got to know her and her family. On move-in day, I made it a point to meet with her on campus and welcome her to our community. There’s so much value in making sure people who come from further away have someone they can reach out to,” Dealy says. 

She made it a point to keep up with the student throughout her four years at the college, too. Dealy says it was great to keep up with her life at the college, her studies and hear about her extracurricular activities. 

“A few years later, I went out to visit her high school and it was great to talk to her guidance counselor and tell her about the things that the student was doing on campus. The mom even met me at the school to bring me Chick-fil-A. It was so nice to meet her mom!” Dealy added.

This is exactly what I mean.

Ways Relationships Can Sustain Kids During the College Search and Beyond

Whether your student’s a sophomore or junior in high school, it’s never too early to start building those friendships for later. Here’s how these connections can bloom.

They Can Guide You and Your Child During the College Search Process 

When you trust someone from the college you’re looking into, it can really help solidify a decision. For example, let’s say you meet your daughter’s admission counselor, Jessi, who is absolutely awesome. You have an easy camaraderie, and every time your daughter needs something, you say, “Email Jessi! She’ll know the answer.” 

Employees (Should!) Embody the Mission of the College or University

The employees you meet are representative of everything the college stands for. Colleges and universities rely on their mission, values and branding guidelines to carry on through their employees. Most employees uphold these standards. Since you can’t meet every single person on a campus during the college search, you can reasonably assume that most of the college embodies these characteristics.

When Push Comes to Shove, You Might Need Some Help with the Decision 

Building relationships with people everywhere means your son or daughter will have trusted individuals at each college on his or her shortlist, which will help when it’s time to make a decision. 

What do you do when your son says, “I’m not sure I want to go 1,000 miles away from home!”  

What’s your first thought? Yep: “Let’s pick up the phone. Jessi can help.” 

You’ll Know Your Child is in Trusted Hands

It’s scary and emotional to drop your 18-year-old off at a college on move-in day. (I know, understatement of the year.) But if there’s one small spark of comfort, it’s knowing that your child is going to a really good place.

You can feel good about sending your high schooler off to the right college because of the genuine relationships you’ve built. 

Your Child Can Go to that Person for Anything Throughout College — and Beyond

Dealy added a personal touch to admission counseling. “It was so important to me to meet with students who came from further away to have a resource on campus. They were all given my cellphone number and knew they could reach out to me if they had questions,” she said. 

Here’s another scenario: Let’s say you and your child meet a coach during the college visit and you know intuitively that that person will be instrumental in your student-athlete’s life. The wrestling coach at my college was like that. Student-athletes adored him and he continues to remain a powerful figure in their lives for years after college.

Dealy says it’s great for networking, too. “You never know who you could be connected to or be in touch with, whether it’s someone at the institution or an alumnus or a friend in the same field. I think networking is really important. The other thing is just to have a resource. Someone who you know you can ask anything of,” says Dealy.

Build Friendships Throughout the College Process

Do you think you can build communication and trust between parents, students and college employees? Can you and your child talk to every single person you meet during a college visit? Why not try?

Build relationships during the college search for lasting benefits — but you and your child must both reciprocate. Reach out. Email. Call. Make those connections! 

As a parent, you’ll be glad you built those friendships during the college search, Dealy says.

“I think it gives parents a sense of comfort when they’re sending their students off to college. You’re trusting that institution and the people you’ve met. It can help them feel confident sending your student to a brand-new place on his or her own and find an environment that’s right for their student,” says Dealy.

Well said.

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