The College Road Trip: Make It Great!

This summer high school students and their families may take a college road trip, a rite of passage in the college application journey. Of course, families are fortunate, and grateful, that the receding pandemic has made these visits possible again. While a college road trip may not be possible for all families, here are some reasons why touring a college in-person can be helpful:

  • College information sessions and campus tours allow students and parents to ask questions.
  • College tours (especially if visiting when college is in session) allow students and parents to get a sense of the campus “vibe,” energy and character.
  • College tours allow students and parents to see if the campus is well-kept or threadbare.
  • After the “official” college tour students and parents can visit areas of particular interest (e.g., sports facilities, art studios, science labs).
  • Students and parents can go beyond the campus and check out the neighboring community.
  • Colleges love students who love them, and visiting is one way to demonstrate interest.


The “purpose” of the college road trip is to help students find colleges that are good fits. Some qualities students should consider when deciding if a college is a good fit for them include:

  • Size (colleges range in size from less than 1000 to over 60,000).
  • Location/distance from home and setting (urban, rural or suburban).
  • Academic atmosphere (collegial or competitive).
  • Degrees offered (BA, BS, BFA), programs, majors and classes.
  • Student body characteristics (diverse, conservative, liberal, outdoorsy, studious).
  • Social life and campus culture (Greek life, suitcase school).
  • Housing and dining options.
  • Activities (clubs, organizations, sports).
  • Campus facilities (well-kept or in need of a face-lift).
  • Admissions probabilities.
  • Cost of attendance (including need-based and merit-based aid).


Students should remember that there is no “magic formula” for finding good fits, and sometimes what is initially important changes after a few college visits. It’s always a good idea for students to visit a variety of colleges – one big, one small, one urban, one rural – and pay attention to what they like and dislike.

To make the college road trip a success, here are a few tips for the adults on the journey:

  • Take a different tour than your student (some colleges even ask families to do this!).
  • Let your student share their opinions before adults share theirs.
  • Remember that the student is choosing a college for themselves, not for their parents.
  • Use the college road trip as a time to learn about the student’s preferences – some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it big, some like it small – it’s a lot of fun to discover what excites your student!


After a few information sessions and campus tours colleges can seem to blend together. This is why the campus visit is one of the few places where students are encouraged to use their phone! Take pictures and use a note-taking app to help keep thoughts and impressions organized. Many colleges ask applicants why they want to attend that particular college, so these notes can be useful for essay writing later in the application process.

Visiting colleges requires planning – this summer in particular students should call ahead to ask if campuses are welcoming visitors and what COVID protocols, if any, are in place. Make sure to register for information sessions and tours if asked to do so.

Sometimes the college tour does not go as planned – students hate their parents’ alma mater or love a college their parents intensely dislike or announce that they’d prefer to do their next college road trip with friends! Try not to expect a “perfect” college road trip – some days may be great, some may be mediocre, and some may be downright bad.

But a college road trip can be a wonderful experience, an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves and their priorities for their college experience and for parents to watch as students begin their journey toward college and young adulthood.