Summer is here. School is officially out. Homework is adjourned. Ice cream is on your mind. The weather is hot and trips are abound. Whether you have a few planned itineraries or still trying to map out your next family adventure, consider including a college visit to your agenda. Summertime is the peak visit period for many families. You might have matriculating seniors scoping out their future residence, attending orientation, and getting a flavor of their college town. Perhaps, you might have rising seniors on an ambitious visit schedule to narrow down their college application list. If you do not fall in either one of these categories (I have a 7 year old and a toddler), and you have younger kids, why not make the college visit the center piece of your vacation schedule?
Visiting colleges as part of an educational tour or family vacation has increased over the years. There are tour companies who specifically develop college themed tours and parallel programs. For the most part, these are organized on behalf of school districts or specific affinity groups, however, a cottage industry seems to be growing for enterprises looking to create individualized campus visits for smaller groups and families. I am not for or against these services, however, it does highlight an exciting opportunity to think differently about your summer vacation. Regardless of age, you can identify a range of activities to make it fun for all parties involved on the trip.
Here are three reasons to include college campuses as part of your summer plans:
1) Affordable – Besides travel, accommodations, food, and maybe parking, the cost to set foot on a college campus is relatively inexpensive. Imagine describing the visit like a theme park. For example, you might say there are many different type of lands to discover. Some are academic (e.g. Bookland aka the Library or noteworthy departments), some are recreational (e.g. Sportsland aka the gym, student union, or fields aka playgrounds for college students), and some are distinctive (e.g. museums and other community resources). If you want to be even more creative throw in self-guided/virtual tours and scavenger hunts, many of which are offered by schools as a means to enhance or compliment the visit experience. Incorporate social media and you can have a field day.
2) Attractions – Present the shuttle system as the ride around campus. Develop a fun script by using the map or just make up stories to keep your kids engaged on the bus. Perhaps, the campus is noted for distinguished art pieces, historical landmarks, or unique topography. Visit these interesting places and discuss it’s value or meaning. If it involves nature, experience it, take a picture on the cliff and hike to the summit. Dining is an attraction in my book. Nothing better than tasting your experience. A variety of activities on campus allows everyone to find something interesting. You must do research in advance to make sure you have something for everyone to enjoy. This is critical if you have older kids who won’t buy into all the “lands” you can explore.
3) Archive – No trip is memorable without a “ticket stub” to commemorate the experience. A physical takeaway makes a lasting impression. This could be a visit to the sundry store to procure a signature snack item. Get one to taste and maybe one to keep for later. There is the campus bookstore or student co-op to pick up swag. Whether you like clothing, coffee mugs, magnets, folders, postcards, or stationary, there is something for everyone. Be prepared, this is likely the most expensive part of your experience. Take it up a notch and create a memory back to capture the moments and to share your stories with others.
If you want to develop a college going mindset you must plant the seeds of possibility. Though my son is seven he has accumulated an assortment of gear (mainly basketball shorts because he is an aspiring NBA player) and he loves wearing it and telling me about other kids who might know about those colleges or asking me about players who attended those institutions. Wherever he wants to take the conversation is where I follow. He also reminds me where we need to return because some of the items I got him don’t fit him anymore. I love hearing how he wants to go back and visit those colleges.
Personally, this approach aligns with my philosophy of edutainment: Enlighten and Engage Everyday. This is a lifestyle, not some cute tagline. I want to take advantage of every opportunity to highlight both educational and entertaining values. By complimenting one another, you create balance. A vacation can incorporate informative moments. An educational trip can include elements of joy. It is not one or the other. Actually, it is both. Go ahead, near or far, plan that magical adventure to college. The time spent together will bode well in the future when it is time to have the talk about College. Just don’t forget to scroll through those old pictures and to find those old mementos. Have a good laugh (or a good cry) and then take a deep breath before you start the official college search process.
#ThickEnvelope is a monthly column that can be read exclusively on AsAmNews. Patrick Gabriel Lorenzo is Associate Director of Admissions at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA and a graduate of both a University of California campus and a regional private college. He has nearly 15 years of experience in higher education spanning public and private institutions. He is a firm believer in access, against the notion of college acceptances being a prize to be won, and promotes the idea of searching colleges from the inside out. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com for further questions.