6 Ways to Safeguard a Teen Visiting Colleges Alone

Parents can help students steer clear of sticky situations through planning and communication.

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Most parents are concerned with the kinds of choices their kids make when going off to college, but the decision-making process can start much sooner than that.

Many high school kids experience campus life while still in high school, in the form of college visits. While school visits are important to the decision-making process, the potential for students to make decisions—both good and bad—is there.

[Get tips for an effective college visit.]

JULIE:

College visits by high school students come with a lot of emotions and considerations for parents. One thing that may come as a surprise, however, is that the opportunity sometimes exists for kids to get in situations they're not ready for and make bad decisions, all while on a campus visit.

As a parent, there are a few different things you can do to make sure this doesn't happen.

1. Go on visits with your child: Not only is this a great time to talk about schools and college life in general, but acting as a chaperone can keep your child out of inappropriate situations.

[Find out how to plan college visits this summer.]

2. Choose structured visits over informal ones: Attending school-planned visits to campus means that your child has an agenda and itinerary to follow, which leaves less time for less-than-desirable college activities.

3. Communicate before, during, and after visits: If your child will be visiting a campus without parental supervision, talk extensively beforehand about where they'll be going, with whom they'll be staying, and what situations they might find themselves in while there. Text and call often during the trip, and debrief after it's over so you can discuss what they experienced.

LINDSEY:

When going on college visits during my junior and senior years of high school, I was lucky in that one or both of my parents attended with me. Not every student has this opportunity, however, and going on a college visit alone can be overwhelming.

As a student, here are my tips for how to get the most out of your college visit, even if you'll be attending alone.

1. Look for interactive visits: Some colleges have programs that allow you to stay overnight with a current student, or schedule social events for you to meet other prospective students. Utilizing these types of programs can give you a support system during your visit if a parent or guest won't be attending with you.

Even if you have a parent or guest along, this will give you a chance to do more than just idly sit through the university's tours and information sessions.

[Ask these questions during your college visit.]

2. Let your admissions representatives know your needs: Admissions reps are eager to improve your visit to their campuses, so let them know you'll be visiting alone. They may be able to assign you a current student to shadow or give you a more personal tour.

If they aren't able to give you any extra resources, they'll at least appreciate knowing you're traveling alone. This way, they can give you a little extra attention to make sure all your questions are being answered.

3. Don't be afraid to speak up: In my experience giving campus tours and being a student leader during New Student Orientation, parents ask about 10 times more questions than students will. If you're visiting without a parent or guest with you, make sure to get all of your questions answered during your stay. It may take a little more effort on your part, but your campus tour guide or admissions representative will probably appreciate your interest.

In addition, you'll be able to bring lots more information back to your parents if you are engaged during your campus visit. Think about making a list of questions with your parents before going on your visit so you can get their questions answered, as well as your own.