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Maria Ziomek: A parent’s guide to college visits

This is one survival list you cannot do without. (The list you are about to read does not necessarily reflect the true actions of all the parties involved and may contain a trace of exaggeration. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

• Take out a loan in advance to finance these costly trips. Unless you have super-human powers, you will need to sleep and eat during the evenings before going on to your next destination.

• Do not expect your teen to read about the college you are about to visit — until that day, in the car, during the drive, on his smart phone. Most likely, he will only look up the boy/girl ratio and how the food ranks.

• Do not wear any item of clothing that resembles teen fashion. Moms, no belly shirts, short skirts or skinny jeans. Dads, do not wear your baseball hat backwards to look cool and, for the love of God, do not wear brown or black socks with shorts. Fanny packs and visors are banned from all campuses.

• Expect not have a conversation with your teen while driving to the designated college, and if you do, it will probably be a fight about why you cannot afford the college you are about to visit.

• Insist your teen bring a sweater or jacket even it is 120 degrees outside so that you won’t have to listen to him complain about how cold it is in the admissions office.

• If you have a death wish, by all means take your camera out and attempt to take a picture of him during the visit.

• Do not, I repeat, do not arrive on time. Arrive a little late and saunter over to the auditorium for the long information session followed by the long tour. Don’t even think about sitting in the front row. Sit in the way back where you cannot hear or see the speaker, because that is where he wants to sit.

• Do not make the mistake this poor dad sitting in front of me made. He heard me take out some mints, turned around and asked me for one. The look on his son’s and my daughter’s faces said it all. They were mortified their parents had spoken to each other. In other words, do not speak to anyone near you. Do not introduce yourself or extend your hand. Sit quietly in your seat, act like a robot and do not move. And, as I learned (the hard way), do not hum to a “dumb” tune (believe me, they are all “dumb”) while you are waiting for the program to begin.

• When finally on your walking tour, try to keep up with the group so you don’t fall too far behind (even though you will be huffing and panting because you are out of shape and these tour guides are way too spunky), but make sure you are not right in front, brown-nosing with the guide. Do not ask questions. Let your teen ask (even though he never will). If for some reason there is a dialogue between the guide and other parents, nod your head and agree.

• If you must ask some questions, make sure they never include what the alcohol policy is and where the “dry” dorm is. Do not ask where the health center is or if the campus has emergency phones. Never ask how late the library stays open.

• When visiting a dorm room, do not comment on the package of Trojans you see on the desk or how filthy the room is. Never ask about curtains, hampers, matching comforters or coed bathrooms.

• If lunch is provided, eat as much as you can because at least something in this world, is still free. Do not introduce yourself to the other parents at your table and avoid the urge to encourage your teen to speak to someone. In addition, please check your teeth for any spinach remnants that may be trapped in your mouth, before continuing on.

• If you happen to love the college you are visiting and think it is a perfect fit for your little bundle of joy, do not be an idiot and express your preference. If you love it, they will hate it.

• Do not be the parent who asks about financial aid or scholarships. Smile and pretend that you, too, can afford the $60K per year.

• On the way home, do not ask your teen to tell you the five best and worst things about the college (just because they behave like 3-year-olds does not mean they like playing that game anymore). In fact, do not ask him anything at all. He is already over it, texting his friends and listening to music.

• Get home. Run to the liquor cabinet. Serve yourself a stiff drink. Sit and sulk. Numb the depressing thoughts swirling in your head about having to re-mortgage your home for the third time and selling your valuables on craigslist. The sooner you can escape from reality, the better.

Maria Ziomek lives in Amherst.

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