What I learned from 23 college tours. Yes, 23.

To call the college visit process complicated is an understatement, which journalist Lauren Kafka knows all too well.

As she planned a bicoastal whirlwind tour for her twin children, Kafka realized that it may take one shabby hotel, a few rental cars, and 23 college tours before students find the right fit, she writes for the Washington Post.

While others families may design elaborate spreadsheets pinning visits down to the tour time, Kafka struggled with how to divvy up responsibilities between herself and her two children.

According to a high school guidance counselor, admission officers look for students who "start taking responsibility of their own lives," recalls Kafka. This means that it should be the prospective students that sign up for tours and ask questions, the counselor told her.

An admission leader's journey through college choice

But with both twins deeply involved in extracurricular activities and intense AP classes, piling on the logistical nightmare of planning two simultaneous campus explorations didn't seem like the best idea, she writes.

So Kafka took the trip into her own hands. By sprinkling the family's cross country tour through California and New England with mini-vacations and a "spectacular Dixie Chicks concert," Kafka broke up the monotony and stress that can permeate the college decision process.

Once the trip came to a close, Kafka's daughter Adrienne cinched her journey with early admission into Claremont McKenna College. Her son, Julian, on the other hand, took more of an eleventh-hour approach—literally—but successfully landed admission into the University of Vermont.

Why do students decline their dream schools?

From her family's bicoastal college tour, Kafka identifies nine takeaways for administrators preparing prospective students for the same journey—whether students plan to visit 23 campuses or just one.

1. Advise families to begin the financial aid process in early October.

2. Encourage prospective students to balance their college tours with dream schools and more realistic ones.

3. Remind attendees that an admitted student's day will last much longer than the typical college visit.

4. Recommend lodging that's walking distance from campus, so families can avoid tricky parking.

5. Caution against more than two college visits per day, so students have enough time to explore campus.

6. Hand out admission staff members' business cards so families can email with more personal questions.

7. Encourage families to speak with faculty and current students to receive a holistic perspective on the college.

8.  Suggest a local restaurant or open athletic event so visitors can get a feel for campus life.

9. Urge families to think beyond the "perfect school" and focus on ones that fit well, Kafka writes.

As was the case for her twin children, each student will likely approach the college search process differently, she explains.

Ultimately, college decisions are the student's choice, so the role of both parents and administrators is to be supportive, stay calm, and "embrace the chaos," writes Kafka (Strauss, Washington Post, 8/8).

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