Planning for and making the most of the college visit experience

The college process is hectic, stressful, and time consuming for everyone. I knew I did not want the limited time I had left with my kids to be consumed with talking about test scores, essays, and grades, or worse, riding in silence on our college journeys. Traveling with kids always presents opportunities to learn more about yourself, your child, and to laugh or cry a little—ok, a lot. I remember the time I took my son to his first Bed & Breakfast on our first college tour. I couldn’t help but laugh as I explained to him the B&B mentality of “talking” during breakfast when in someone’s home. Or the time I dropped my daughter off for an interview and finally found the perfect coffee shop to work, only for her to call me insisting I had to come back to admissions for my own “interview.” I remember visiting a college campus in a remote area of New York State with my son. We were tired from the long drive and unfortunately, I had not done my homework (I am an avid traveler and foodie at heart) scouting out the inside scoops on where all the college kids hang out for the best pizza, burger or ice cream near campus. We grabbed an early dinner at a sub-par Mexican restaurant and there was not one student nearby. My son looked around and I could tell he was not enjoying this excursion.

The next morning before the information session was over, I asked everyone I could find on campus where their favorite places were to grab a meal or hang out in between classes. On our drive to the next college campus, I made a detour for a sweet bite at the local dairy farm for the ice cream sandwich everyone raved about. That set the stage for the rest of our college visits and my daughter’s too. I took a backseat and watched as suddenly, my son and daughter were engaged when they were on tours. They wanted to talk to the students and admissions staff to uncover the hidden gems on and around campus. They wanted to find “their people” when walking around each campus and college town. They got a sense of where they belonged and where they would thrive during their next four years. They were leading the way and taking charge and I was there to support them in the background. After every trip they would sit with their college counselors sharing their tales of what they liked and what they didn’t like about each campus.

When you ask my son what were some of his fondest college visit memories, you will hear him talk about the stuffed burger at Union College, the fried Oreo (everyone has to try it at least once in their life) down the street from the University of Richmond, barbequed ribs at Syracuse, the pancakes near Lehigh, and the doughnuts around the corner from Tufts. My daughter still raves about the cookies and crème “concrete” (St. Louis lingo for frozen custard) at Ted Drewes, eating doughnuts at the Donut Vault in the middle of a snowstorm in Chicago, and trying scallion pancakes at Mei Mei’s in Boston.

While many families found the college visit process overwhelming, our family truly enjoyed our time together. With two kids settled at college now and one more to go, I look forward to the time I will have with my younger son exploring colleges but for now, I am enjoying the moment.

Moira McCullough founded College Scoops after spending countless hours scouting college campuses with her three college-bound teenagers. A devoted foodie with a serious case of wanderlust, she has developed surefire itineraries for over 120 college campuses, saving parents hours of research—whether they’re visiting in person or exploring online. Moira has grown her student ambassador program to over 300 hand-picked college students and parents who share their inside scoops of their favorite places to eat, stay and explore on and around campus. New colleges and student ambassadors are joining College Scoops every week, so you can get a feel for what life will be like for your child from students who are already immersed in campus life.

Moira has a BA from Fairfield University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. After spending many years in the technology and consulting fields while living in New York City, London, and Paris, Moira has focused the last several years on raising her family, volunteering, and launching her College Scoops business.