A great way to get your child excited about the idea of going to college is to give ’em a taste of what it might be like. Formal tours are great when the time is right, but you can also just drop by a college informally, either in your hometown or when you’re on vacation, to get a feel for collegiate life. While you’re there, you can interact with students, faculty, and staff, ask questions, visit hotspots, or just give your teen sufficient time to stroll around independently. Especially for younger teens, visiting college campuses can be a great way to help them start visualizing their future — and get motivated to make it a reality. Here are some easy, fun, no-pressure ways to give your teen a taste of campus life.

  1. Drive, bike, or walk around the campus

    As you cruise around, note things like the trees and green space, the architecture, the hangout spots. Does this campus feel too big, too small, or about right? Does the campus feel safe? Is it easy to navigate? Just like there are no stupid questions, there are no bad observations on a visit like this.

  2. Take pictures

    Images will help you remember important events of the day, especially if you visit 10-20 campuses. Keep it fun by making a list of 10 things to get a picture of on each campus or do an A-Z scavenger hunt with photos of the arboretum, the bowling alley, the coffee shop, etc.

  3. Get coffee or ice cream

    Visit the campus coffee house for a drink or grab an ice cream and sit outside. Just being around college students can help your child envision their life on campus.

  4. Let your teen bring a friend

    Explore campus together but be sure to let the pals talk about topics they’d prefer not to share with you — like “Are the boys cute?” or “I can’t stand the clothes everyone’s wearing!” — and let the teens generally lead the way.

  5. Eat in the cafeteria or dining commons

    Sample the fare, see what other students are eating, and check out the menu board for the coming week. Is eating there enjoyable — and can you get a smoothie to go?

  6. Go to a game, movie, concert, or art show

    Get tickets to see the school’s baseball team play, attend an on-campus concert, catch a campus movie screening, or stop by the temporary exhibit at the campus museum. Just by being there, your teen will get familiar with the environment, the vibe, and the crowds on campus.

  7. Visit the campus bookstore

    Is it friendly here? Does it feel like an important campus hub? Are there lots of displays of school spirit? Do students seem stressed out? Are the course books in your student’s possible majors intriguing?

  8. Take a picnic

    If the weather’s nice, take some sandwiches and a blanket with you and plop down on the grass somewhere that looks appealing to your child. Talk about your child’s interests and how college fits into your child’s future plans.

  9. Peruse campus media

    Grab copies of the student newspapers and read it, even the ads. Do they indicate a culture that appeals to your teen? Listen to the campus radio station; does your kid like the music, and the attitude projected by the DJs?

  10. Explore the surrounding area

    Does your teen want to live for four-plus years in an exciting city, a leafy suburb, a rural area, or a challenged community? Do they want cold weather or hot? Do they feel safe? Do they want to ski on weekends, go to the beach, or see rock bands in amphitheaters? What’s the public transportation like? How distant from home is this place — is it too close or too far? Are there hiking areas? Shopping malls?

  11. Visit the library

    Is the building inviting, quiet, an inspiring place to study? Check out how late it’s open and if there’s a safe way to get home if you study late. See how far is it from on-campus and off-campus housing. Is there food nearby? Are the chairs comfortable? Are the books easy to find? Are there rooms available for group study?

  12. Hang out at the student union

    Do some serious people-watching here. Is the student population diverse? Relaxed? Are kids playing frisbee on the lawn? Does it appear cliquey? Are jocks and nerds separated? Do professors interact with students here? And yes, just this once, it’s okay to eavesdrop and see what students are talking about and how they’re talking to each other.

  13. Visit the campus gym and check out available teams

    If your teen is an athlete, check out the locations where they’d work out and compete. If your kid wants to play intramurals or club sports, take them to the fields or courts. If your young jock thinks she wants to play for the school team, take your teen to see the team play.

  14. Attend a class in your teen’s favorite subject

    This takes a bit more planning — and likely permission — but sitting in on an Abnormal Psychology or Economics lecture may appeal to your child. Plus your teen will get to check out how big the room is and how excited students seem about the material.

  15. Spotlight your teen’s specific interests

    If your teen is religious, visit the campus chapel to see if it provides a spiritual connection. If they’re artistic, visit the campus art studios and museums — what does your kid think of the work? If they’re science-oriented, visit laboratories and see if your young Einstein is impressed. If they’re musical, go to the symphony hall and attend a concert. If they like political science, have them chat with local activists, participate in a campus demonstration, or listen to a talk by a visiting government official.

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Updated: December 16, 2019