Costly college visitations have become a waste of time

There is no reason to make costly visits to campuses to help a high school student choose a college. All the information can be found online.
There is no reason to make costly visits to campuses to help a high school student choose a college. All the information can be found online. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: Our 17-year-old daughter wants to begin visiting colleges. She’s a high-school junior. We’re feeling like the Grinches Who Stole College Visitations because neither of us feels there’s any value to this practice. We fail to understand how walking among and through buildings that all look the same after a while, and hearing a sales pitch from someone whose job depends on persuading an impressionable teen that the college he works for is a perfect fit is going to result in the teen making a rational decision. Our friends think we’re neglecting our parental duties. We’re expecting a visit from child protective services any day now. What are your thoughts?

A: I’m on the same page with you. When we were on the downhill slope of high school, neither my wife nor I visited any college campuses. We looked at brochures — no internet then — talked to our high school counselors, friends and people who’d attended the colleges that interested us, made a choice, obtained our parents’ approval, and went merrily off to college.

Taking a cue from our libertarian parents, we did not take our children on college visitations, either. We told them to pick an in-state college, because that is where they were going for at least the first two years. They applied (without our help), got accepted and off they went. Furthermore, they graduated from the colleges they chose without ever visiting them.

Is there evidence that these costly visits help students make rational decisions? No, none, nada, zilch, zero. More students than ever are dropping out of college during or immediately after their (usually disastrous) first year. According to some articles, it’s a crisis. I’m going to go out on a short limb here, but I’ll bet there is a statistical correspondence between the increase in college visitations by high school students and the increase in the freshman dropout rate.

A mom recently told me that after she and her daughter visited 10 colleges, the daughter decided to go to such-and-such college. When I asked the basis for her daughter’s decision, the mother answered, “She said she just got a good feeling when she was there.”

A good feeling? I felt like screaming, “You have got to be kidding me. You are going to send your daughter to that expensive college because she got a certain feeling as she walked around, looking at the buildings? Was she especially drawn to the color of the brick or what?” But I didn’t.

This parent-child college visitation phenomenon is yet another manifestation of parent “involvement” — of what I call Cuisinart parenting. Cuisinart parenting is one step above helicopter parenting. It is being a part of every decision one’s child makes — blended in, if you will— from the time the child is a toddler, including making decisions a child should make for himself. It begins with play dates and just keeps on rolling. Twenty years later, many of these same parents are attending their kids’ post-college job interviews.

Concerning any given college, the necessary information, including lots of impressive photos, is online. I advise telling teens to research the colleges that interest them and go through the application process on their own. A young person who can’t fill out a college application without mommy and daddy’s help isn’t college material in the first place.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

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