Why Cross the Country to Tour Colleges?

Before we get in to my thoughts on each of the schools we toured, I’d like to address a few additional points, including a handful of common questions we’ve received more than once.

1. Why does my daughter want to leave the area? Honestly, it’s something she can’t even fully explain. I hesitate to say she’s trying to escape anything, she just fell in love with the west coast on past trips, and prefers the environment. Obviously there are things that, as a child, she’s not going to see until she’s living it (the LA traffic, cost of living, etc), but in a way I do get the desire. My wife and I grew up out west, and honestly this gives me the excuse I’ve been looking for to move back out there. We’re not going to live near the college or anything, it’ll depend on where I get a job, but in all likelihood we’ll be no more than a couple of hours away.

2. Does she understand the financial implications of going out of state, and who’s paying the tuition? First, I’ll address the out of state piece. As my last answer alluded to, we’re planning on moving out there as well, so at most, all we should have to pay is one year of out of state tuition (assuming she goes to a public school). That may not even be the case, as we’ve tossed around the idea of a gap year. I’ll address the talk around the gap year in a later post, as there are plans for what she’d do. It’s not going to be a year of sitting around watching TV.

On the question of who’s paying, I’ll start by saying that she fully understands that college isn’t free. As her parents, we believe that we should at least be partly responsible for helping her with the costs. Looking over the full estimated costs per year of many programs (in-state or otherwise), I honestly can’t imagine leaving a kid saddled with all of that debt. Will we pay all of it? Not likely. We don’t pay all of her summer camp costs now, she’s been sharing that cost with us 50/50 for a few years now, mainly as a way to show her that we all have to work and save up for what we want. The exact split is still up in the air at this point. I’m considering an option where she can knock her percentage down by putting in the time to researching scholarships and grants. She’s the one getting the education, and to show she’s committed, I think she should be putting in effort in this area. We’re all still working this out, so I’ll update this as the year progresses.

3. Why spend the money to travel out there and tour schools? Bottom line, because walking the campus and hearing about the school from current students can give you a perspective you simply can’t get from reading about the school online. If she’s going to do this, I want to do everything I can to minimize the possibility she ends up somewhere she doesn’t like. The trip definitely accomplished a couple of goals, the main one being that there’s more to a school than the strength of its football program. That, and a large school, were two of the key things she was looking at going in, as she thought she wanted the “big school” experience more than anything else. She did research on schools in LA and San Diego before we went to come up with the list of ones we were going to visit, and even after all that research, still felt that way. As we started to actually tour schools, the change in the way she approached this was dramatic. Heck, a month ago going to a school with a well-known football program was near the top of the priority list. In one of the first tours, that went out the window when she fell in love with a slightly smaller school with no football program at all. As the tours progressed, some of the schools she was moving to the top of her list were far smaller in size than she ever envisioned. She was actually applying her future goals (meaning what she wanted to major and minor in) to the decision making process based on the individual schools’ strengths and weaknesses. She’d also figured out that bigger isn’t always better, especially when you’re an undergrad at a research-heavy school. It was simply amazing to watch how much her perspective changed once we were actually on campuses and she was asking questions.

I’m sure there are people who disagree with some (or all) of what I have above, but hey, this is how we chose to approach it. With the amount of money going to in to whatever school she ends up at, we wanted to ensure that we’re getting as much data as possible up front on each school. I was able to take the time off and put together enough money to make the trip out there, and I certainly don’t regret it. Even if we hadn’t been able to afford the trip, I think it would have been incredibly valuable to tour large, medium and small schools in our local area just so she could get some perspective.

Now, to finish off this post, I’d like to quickly review our expectations going in, and what prep work we did.

For expectations, as parents we really weren’t sure what to expect, having never done this before. We made it clear this wasn’t a vacation, and while we might do a little sightseeing stuff on the weekend, each weekday was going to be dedicated to touring at least one school. In reality, the schedule had us touring two schools most days. Our biggest hope for the trip were what I’ve mentioned previously, that she’d see there’s more to the decision than finding a good football school. We weren’t disappointed.

So what did we do to prep? Well, the vast majority of that work was split between my wife and daughter. My daughter was responsible for researching other schools in the area and making a list of ones that looked worth touring. She spent quite a bit of time reading the web sites of schools in LA and San Diego, and came out with a list of 14 schools. This list was comprised of schools in the UC and CSU systems, as well as a handful of private colleges. She stored her list in a shared OneNote file so we could all see it as she updated it to ensure that she was putting solid effort in to it. Somewhat to my surprise, she was :).

After she had her list, my wife worked to schedule the actual tours. This was more of a pain than either of us expected. We were more than a month out from the trip, but finding open time slots for each school that allowed us to see two schools that are physically close together each day proved difficult. The last thing we wanted to do was to have to go from one end of LA to the other between tours, since we knew we’d have a short window of time between them, and we know (from past experience) that LA traffic sucks, regardless of the time of day. When she got to UCLA, that one proved the hardest. It’s one of the most popular schools, and as a result, they only had one open slot on one of the days we were out there, so we had to shuffle a bunch of stuff to make that one happen. In the end, she did a great job, and we got them all scheduled. The final count was 14 schools that we planned to tour in 8 days (not counting weekend days). Yea, it was a lot, but hey, we wanted to make the trip worthwhile. We ended up skipping one, so we ended up doing 13 in 8 days. I’ll cover which one we skipped and why in a later post.

In upcoming posts, I’m going to start covering the schools we toured. I had my order all planned out, but then a ridiculous thank-you letter from USC showed up yesterday that I just have to post. It’ll also allow me to cover the major and minor she’s currently looking at, so they’re on deck first. I’m not pulling punches here, we’re going to give our honest assessment of each school, along with things we learned along the way that seemed trivial at first, but actually had a noticeable impact on how she viewed each school when we actually toured it.

 As always, feel free to ask questions and comment on what I’ve written, just keep it friendly 🙂


2 thoughts on “Why Cross the Country to Tour Colleges?

  1. I will say that I am very happy and impressed with the fact that you have some serious discussion about the financial implications of going to an out of state school with your daughter. I work as a college counselor and am completely amazed how many parents DON’T have that discussion. I think what is key is that you have made it clear to her that she will have some “skin the game”. Usually students who bear some responsibility of their education are more likely to graduate. Honestly, if a student wants to go out of state and can figure out how to realistically make it happen without completely throwing the family budget into a tailspin, I’m not too worried!

  2. Thanks for reading! Yes, we’ve had the discussion , but I’m not entirely convinced it’s all sunk in yet. It’s a topic that will be coming up again throughout this process, as I want it etched into her brain by the time she has to make the final decision 🙂

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