Q: Our 17-year-old daughter wants to begin visiting colleges. She’s a high school junior this year and this is when the college visitations begin. We’re feeling like the Grinches Who Stole College Visitations because neither of us feel there’s any value to this practice. We fail to understand how walking among and through buildings that all begin to 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 for a teen he doesn’t know is going to result in said 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. Help us out here. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I’m going to assume that neither of your parents took you on these fascinating excursions or you would have more of an appreciation for their inestimable value.
Sarcasm aside (for the moment), 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, remember — 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 rather libertarian parents, we did not take our children on college visitations either. We simply 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 are helping 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 get out on a very 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 during her junior year of high school, 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 actually going to agree to send your daughter to that very 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. In case the reader is puzzling over the term, 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, by the way, 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 simply telling teens to research the colleges that interest them and go through the application process on their own. It’s a topic for another column, but my feeling is that 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: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.