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The title is intentionally misleading!

What this chapter is really about is convincing you to start your college visits as early as the sophomore or even freshman year of high school.  Am I a pushy parent?  Am I crazy?  No.  This is the voice of experience.  College visits can be one of your happiest memories as a parent if you start them early enough, so early, in fact, that there is nothing at stake.
 
I have seen families where the parents take a very hands-off approach to the college process, thinking that this is the best way to help the student make a choice without pressure.  Too often in these families, the decision about where to apply to college is based on second-hand information from friends and family, rather than from the student's own first-hand impressions.  Too often, the applicant visits colleges for the first time after being accepted, all in a big rush.
 
The way to avoid these difficulties, and to have fun poking around different types of colleges, is to begin to phase in college visits as sidelines to other trips, either weekend get-aways or longer vacations.
 
I took one of my sons to see Reed College during a visit to Portland while he was a sophomore.  He didn't like it, but he had fun skiing on Mt. Hood and exploring the city.  What did he gain in his college search?  A lot.  For one thing, he had actually visited a college, which meant that he was not anxious about visiting other ones.  He knew what to expect next time.  He knew not to apply to Reed, and maybe other schools that he thought were like Reed.
 
Ideally, before the senior year begins, you can find a way for your kid to visit at least one campus representing different concepts:  a state university and a private college, a campus far away and one near home.  If you live near a college, sign up to take a campus tour, just to see what your hometown is like through the eyes of a student. 
 
Sooner or later, the kid may begin to focus on one or two concepts, and then you can make more programmed visits.  By the time senior year rolls around, you may be able to back out of the visits completely, as your kid makes visits with friends or accepts opportunities to spend overnights at schools they are interested in.

Last updated September 2, 2002.