Dos and don’ts for a college road trip

This spring break, while the lucky few spent their days lying on sunny beaches, hitting the slopes, or even binge-watching Netflix, I rode in the front seat of my family’s SUV looking at colleges.

Through this two-week adventure, I learned the essentials needed to survive two weeks of unexpectedly cold weather, gas-station cuisine and a wide array of college campuses.

1. Bring layers. While spring in the Northeast is usually characterized by warm rain and green grass, this season has been all but ‘usual.’ From March 15-29, we toured 15 colleges in rain, sleet and snow with high winds and frigid temperatures. The college touring experience is better if you are physically prepared for it. If properly outfitted, you can become immersed in the environment, rather than distractedly fumble with your sweater to ward off frostbitten fingers.

2. Load up on food. Save time and money along your road trip. Bring value boxes of your favorite granola bars, cereal, and nonperishables that make for a more pleasant drive. You will be straining the family’s finances by going to the college of your dreams, so try to lighten the load by saving money along the way. Do your parents justice. Pack your own food.

3. Bring a notepad. Write a lot during the information sessions and make the most of the tour guides’ first-hand information. When the time comes to apply, the personal anecdotes from the admissions officers and tour guides will certainly inform your essay.

4. Bring a GPS. While taking the SATs and applying to colleges cause intense anxiety and stress, another, slightly underestimated, stressor is getting to the tours on time. Use a GPS and do not rely on Dad’s “I know exactly where it is. … I do not need ‘the machine’ to help me get there.” Walking in 15 minutes late is not a first impression that you should make. Be on time.

5. The Alma Mater Dilemma. Unless you feel as passionate about your mom’s alma mater as she does, I would not recommend doing that tour with her. The pressure for you to fall in love with her school can become intense. My advice is to relieve some pressure, go with the other parent and keep it all in perspective.

6. Keep an open mind. Don’t be stuck on the “name” of the school. While it is easier said than done, be prepared to ignore all preconceived notions about each college or university. If the college feels like home to you, then it is. Trust your instincts, and not rankings on College Confidential.

7. Send emails. After you finish up with your tour, be sure to email the admissions counselor for your area or your tour guide. Let them know that you appreciated their time to show you around campus, particularly if they guided you during a spring blizzard.

8. Be polite. Always be polite and inquisitive both outside and inside the school. During an information session last week, a woman behind me was chatting on her cell phone. On the tour, other people were texting while the guide was introducing us to the campus. If you are trying to make a good first impression at the college, this certainly will not do.

Finally, be sure to thank your parents, as they are the ones taking the time to do this for you and with you.

And yes, my mother was adamant that I use this as the conclusion of this week’s column.


Sarah Jackmauh is a junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart. 

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