As your child’s list of colleges narrows down and clear front-runners begin to emerge, you as the parent will most likely plan to visit the campuses with your child, take a tour and meet with admissions representatives.
However, is that enough of an experience for your child to determine whether or not he or she will be truly happy living at that particular school?
Many schools offer the opportunity for students to schedule an overnight visit where they stay in the dorms and experience a bit of the campus life firsthand. Although this may not be something you initially considered taking on as part of the college process, the overnight visit is becoming more and more popular and will often help you and your child make a final decision about which college to attend.
Preparing Your Child for an Overnight College Visit
What do you need to consider when deciding whether to set up an overnight visit? First and foremost, you need to get it scheduled.
The place to begin is the admissions tab on the college website. It should list dates when they are hosting overnight visits to campus for prospective students. These dates will most likely be very limited and if you do not sign up early, you could get blocked out of a schedule overnight visit. So if the college you are planning to attend offers this experience, it is best to schedule it right away and set it up.
Once the visit is scheduled, the admissions office will pair your child up with a student for the night. They will most likely have one-two meals in the campus dining hall and will also get another tour of the campus; this one given by the student host. This is an opportunity for your child to connect one on one with his or her host and ask any questions about the college. If there is a sport or activity that really holds their interest, mention it in advance of the visit and he or she may be able to go to a practice or meeting.
Of course, your child may also be presented with the opportunity to attend a party or other social event on campus as well. If that is the case, just remember to remind your child to stick with their host for the visit during the duration of the party and to always monitor their behavior. The last thing you want your son or daughter to do is to leave an unfavorable impression on their host and/or the admission office.
Tips to Make it a Success
If you’ve committed signing your child up for an overnight visit, a few practical tips are necessary. Make sure they bring flip-flops or water shoes; remember showers and bathrooms are shared on most campuses. Make sure he or she also brings a few changes of clothing because you may not know until you arrive what events he or she may be asked to attend and what he or she is expected to wear at certain activities. Pack their toiletries and essentials yourself and of course, make sure he or she has pajamas.
A pillow and sleeping bag will most likely also be needed; unless the host informs you in advance that he/she has an extra bed or an air mattress. Send some spending money for extra snacks and meals and also it would be nice to send a small thank you gift for the host.
Obtain contact information for the student host but try your best not to call and/or text your son and daughter once you drop them off for t he overnight. Of course, reaching out in an emergency situation is more than acceptable, but constant checking in is not. Give him or her the freedom to truly experience a night away from home as a college student and wait until he or she returns safely to you the next day before asking for feedback on the visit.
After the Visit
Once the visit has been completed, follow up as a parent with a thank you note to the admissions office and the student host and have your child do the same. Always remember, gratitude goes a very long way, especially in the college admissions process.
Ask your child their thoughts and impressions they had of the school. This may cement in their mind that this is the best school for them. Or it may help them decide it's not a good fit. Either way the experience will give them a taste of college life and help them with their transition later on.