Then the kid sent out his applications, got back several fat envelopes and chose the school he wanted to attend. Come fall, they loaded up and drove back to Pennsylvania. As they pulled into the campus, the kid wailed, "No!" It wasn't the college he had wanted to attend.
This yarn haunted me last spring as I prepared to take my 17-year-old daughter to visit schools with my former college roommate and her daughter. Two moms, two teens, five schools in two days. What were we thinking?
Anyone with a high school junior or senior knows the drill. Every spring, a new crop of high school juniors checks out schools on their "reach," "good-match" and "safety" lists. The procrastinators among them will enter their senior year that fall still refining their lists and visiting campuses. In April, the imminent high school graduates, with acceptance letters in hand, will visit colleges to decide where to enroll.
During our brief swing through the Northeast, we learned a lot about visiting institutions of higher learning anywhere. Here's some practical advice.
WE planned our route with MapQuest and maps from AAA and college websites. Experienced friends helped us estimate driving times. We left after work, driving three hours from Portland, Maine, to Providence, R.I., where we spent the night. The next day, we figured we could cover 95 miles, taking a 9 a.m. campus tour and 10 a.m. information session at Brown University in Providence before driving through Connecticut College's arboretum cum campus in New London, Conn., on our way to the 1 p.m. tour and 2 p.m. information session at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
Instead we played catch-up all day. We got lost the first morning driving through Providence to the Brown campus. As I screeched to a halt in front of the admissions office, my friend and the girls jumped out of the car. I parked three blocks away and dashed back in time to catch the tail end of the tour as the two guides led about 25 people up the street.
The tour ran late. So did the information session. We blasted out of Providence, sped down Interstate 95 and up U.S. 9 to Middletown, Conn., skipping Connecticut College. The 1 p.m. Wesleyan tour was just leaving the admissions office when we skidded into the parking lot.
Laurel Spielberg of Hanover, N.H., who was making the college rounds with her son Jeffrey says visiting more than one college a day has one benefit. "Sometimes it offers the advantage of contrasts." Though, she acknowledges, "I'm sure if you do two a day for lots of days, they probably all blend together."
Lesson learned: Don't try to visit more than two schools a day.
I didn't call for reservations until a week before our trip and couldn't get rooms at two of my first choices. Schools are inundated with visitors in April, and again in August and early fall. Book ahead if you're going to be touring during peak season.
In order to eat breakfast, check out early and make the morning tour and information sessions, we found it best to spend the night close to campus. That meant a late-afternoon drive to ready ourselves for the next day. Some lodgings near schools may jack up prices, knowing they have a captive clientele. Still, be sure to mention the school when you're booking; it may win you a college discount.
Because we planned to arrive in Providence late at night, we chose to stay in a high-rise Holiday Inn visible from the highway. In Middletown, we settled for an inexpensive Wesley Inn & Suites motel.
The nicest place we stayed was the easiest to book and the best deal. I snagged a room at the Farnam Guest House in the tony Prospect Hill neighborhood of New Haven, Conn., for $140 after agreeing to forgo the gourmet breakfast. For the same price as the ho-hum Holiday Inn, we had a huge room with a twin, a trundle and a king-size bed piled with down pillows and comforters. The trusting owner left a key under the welcome mat. We had the run of the 1934 Georgian-style mansion and made ourselves tea as soon as we arrived. We were delighted with our stay at the B&B.
(One suggestion for hotel stays: Skip the swimsuits but pack your laptop and look for places with WiFi or wired Internet access so you can keep in touch with the office and home. We did bring our swimsuits but didn't have the time or energy to swim in the one place that had a pool.)
We so enjoyed our stay at Farnam Guest House, I wondered whether it might have colored our reaction to Yale. We found it hard to isolate the educational institution from the whole travel experience. You don't want to fall in love with a B&B and have that influence your teen's choice of a school.
Another parent we ran into at Yale, Marina McCarthy of Belmont, Mass., said she had booked bland motels as a control so her son could compare different schools fairly.