When all was said and done, we spent a total of 12 days in southern California, with 8 of those spent touring 13 schools. For me, it was all a whirlwind of admissions information, campus buildings, and driving. Lots and lots of driving. The one question that came to mind as soon as we got home: Was it worth it?
My answer right out of the gate was yes. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. I don’t just want to say yes to somehow justify the cost in my own mind, I honestly wanted to figure out if this was an experience that I’d feel comfortable recommending to others, and it is.
This was something I’d never heard of anyone (except athletes) doing when I was in high school. Most of my friends who went to college either went to the same school one of their parents did, or to one within a few hours of home, and I was no different. Heck, we didn’t even have the internet to use for college research back then :).
My reasons for thinking this trip was worth the time, expense and occasional frustration are simple, we’d watched our daughter grow quite a bit over those 12 days, and were both proud of what she was showing us. As I mentioned previously, she came in to this looking for three things in a school:
- She really wants it to be in SoCal
- She wanted it to be a big school (UCLA/USC size)
- She wanted it to have a big football program
Regardless of anything we said in the months leading up to the trip, that was her basic criteria. She’d been tossing around different majors all of her junior year, but wasn’t really applying that to school selection.
As we saw on the first stop (UCSB), that all went out the window right away. It was awesome to see how fast all if clicked with her, and how much she changed/grew over the course of those 13 campus tours. The last two criteria were thrown out, and she started to focus on finding a school that fit her goals and personality. Seeing the campuses in person, and being able to talk with actual students made things click in a way that her online research leading up to the trip hadn’t. She started paying attention to how her intended major/minor fit in to each school, if they were in the same college, as well as looking at how alumni played a part in the school (specific to her intended areas of study). These are just a few of the ways in which she really started to see what this decision entailed.
I’m not going to lie, she also got a little stressed when seeing some of the admissions statistics the schools threw out. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I typically take that kind of data with a grain of salt. I’m not saying I think she’s going to get in to every school she applies to, quite the contrary. She busts her butt on her schoolwork, is very active in the classroom, and has a busy schedule outside of school, but isn’t sitting at the 3.8 range many of the schools seemed to be throwing out as averages. We’ll see how it all plays out.
The bottom line is that I can’t recommend campus tours enough. I get that flying to other states may be cost prohibitive. Trust me, it stretched our budget this year to make our trip happen, and we spent a ton of time searching for airfare, places to stay, cheap rental cars, etc, to get the cost down to a manageable level. At one point we talked about an alternative plan: driving down to Florida for a few days to tour some of those schools to at least give her an idea of what the process was like, and give her exposure to different campuses. While it would have been a perfectly viable alternative, we were able to make the trip to CA fit within our target budget.
Look, we all know college isn’t cheap. Regardless of how much of the burden either of us end up shouldering, getting the best bang for our buck is important. Like any other investment, I really believe that a decision like this is something everyone involved should spend time researching.
My next post will have a few tips for keeping trip costs down when visiting out of state schools, along with some things to keep an eye out for when you’re actually touring campuses.