When my daughter was ready to tour colleges, we decided to bring our whole family of five along.
The experience brought us closer together, which was important.
Some tours were too long and my younger children lost interest quickly.
When my oldest daughter was a senior in high school, it was time for her to start visiting colleges. It was a new experience for me because I never toured my college; I committed without ever stepping foot on campus.
But these days, the consensus is that visiting colleges is essential. So we went all in, bringing the entire family along for the journey.
As a family of five, we visited Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, and Franklin Pierce University. Along the way, I learned that dragging the whole family on college tours brought us closer together — but there are some things I'd do differently if we went again.
We decided to tackle college tours as a family
With three kids in high school, I'm all about streamlining whenever I can. Instead of having to plan a trip with half the family, I decided we should all go.
It would also be helpful for everyone since all our kids were in high school. While the visits were for my high-school senior, I figured our junior and freshman would benefit from the experience, as they might be considering schools of their own soon.
And with our oldest leaving the house for the first time, we were going to go through a huge adjustment. A sibling leaving is a big change for kids, and a lot of time and discussion are devoted to the process. I hoped including all the kids from the outset would help them feel like part of the conversation.
Turns out, the interest levels of our kids varied greatly throughout the trip.
We quickly learned not every college tour was built the same
In one day, we toured Eastern Connecticut State University and UConn — two schools near each other. The first tour was a small group, the five of us and one other family. It was comfortable, reasonably paced, and void of too much extraneous information. When our youngest needed a break, one of us stayed with her, catching up with the group a few minutes later.
At UConn, a larger university, there were multiple group tours scheduled at once. Each group had 30 to 50 people. Because there were so many people, it was harder to focus and keep all three kids interested. While my oldest wanted to stick with it, my other two lost interest pretty quickly.
The most important lesson we learned for touring schools as a family was that shorter private tours worked far better than group tours. It also helps to consider how large the tour group will be, whether the tour is general or specific to your family's needs and questions, and how much walking is involved.
But the experience did allow the family to spend some time together
The parts I remember most had nothing to do with the tours. The car rides, food stops, little observations along the way, laughter, and even bickering were all part of the experience. We joked about things we saw at the schools. We found little ways to remember each one because the schools started to blur together. We went out to eat. It was time we set aside to be together.
While the college decision was about one child, the experience became about our family. With so much change on the horizon, that was just what we needed.
Ultimately, I wish we planned a bit better before going on these tours
We should have never booked two tours in one day. It was too easy to mix up the information about schools, and several people in the family were grumpy by the end.
Also, I wish I asked my oldest whether she even wanted her whole family on the tours. If I asked her, it would have given us an opportunity to talk about it and make sure she felt comfortable. I regret that I didn't do that in the beginning.
I'd do it all again
After we toured three schools as a family, my oldest toured five others with just me and her father. Thankfully, she was accepted to all the schools she was interested in. Now she's deciding which one is best for her future as a physician's assistant.
Touring these colleges as a family reminded all of us that while this was a new adventure for one child, we're all part of it.
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