Are college campus tours part of your summer vacation?

Do your summer plans include one or more visits to campuses of schools being considered by that teen in your family? Such tours can be very positive and helpful experiences, if done right.

The best approach is to do some planning before any college visit. Try to evaluate whether the schools under consideration are really good options for your student.

Does a school offer the programs that meet your student’s interests? Is it large enough, or small enough, to feel right for your student? Is it affordable for the family, and does your student have a realistic chance of being accepted based on high school performance?

For the schools that appear to meet your criteria, start with a visit to each school’s website. You can find out about costs, academic programs, class sizes, enrollment and much more.

These websites also provide information about on-campus visits. Most schools require pre-registration for on-campus tours, while some offer opportunities to sit in on a class, or even to stay on campus overnight.

Campus tours, almost always led by an upper-classman in love with the school, can provide a lot of information, but it’s important to remember that this is someone who has been paid and trained to make the school sound wonderful.

Beyond the formal tour, take time to visit the student union, campus coffee shop or dining hall to talk to current students. Prepare some questions ahead of time about the student’s experiences or about special programs of interest. It’s also a good idea to talk with staff or faculty in the area of study being considered. Check out the counseling services for personal growth that a school may offer its students, and sitting in on a class, if possible, is always a good learning experience.

Trying to visit too many schools can be frustrating and confusing for your teen and you. Often just visiting a few schools, taking notes and pictures about the good and bad seen, is often more productive. And linking a campus visit to planned family vacation travel can make the whole experience very positive.

Today you can also take virtual college tours online, especially helpful for schools too far away for an in-person visit.

Choosing the right schools can be a stressful decision for any family. But when doing some real investigating online and on-campus can help provide lots of answers and reduce that stress.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.