College Family Weekend: Decoded

Should you go? How long should you stay? What will you do? All your questions answered

Photograph by Stephanie Diani/UCLA

It used to be that parents dropped their kids off at college and then hardly stepped foot on campus again. But today, many schools invite parents back for a fall family weekend jam-packed with campus tours, lectures, performances and sporting events. Here, should you decide to swing the cost and distance to attend, is the inside scoop on how to make the most of the experience:

Talk to your child in advance about how much time you will spend together during the visit. This way, you can go into the weekend with realistic expectations. While you may dream of spending every breakfast, lunch and dinner with your student, he’s probably too busy with schoolwork and social events to devote so many hours to you. “Be flexible if you find out that your child has a test on Monday he absolutely must study for,” says Marjorie Savage, director of the Parent Program at the University of Minnesota. “But it’s OK to insist he spend at least some time with you.”

RELATED: College Prep: Packing

Expect a crowd. Even the sleepiest small town grows into a busy hub when thousands of parents arrive for a weekend. So if you’re coming by car, bring your walking shoes and be prepared to park far away from campus because every parking lot will be packed, says J.D. Rothman, author of The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions. Also book your hotel and restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible, because many college towns have limited accommodations and places to eat.

Offer to take your child’s friends out for a meal. “For many students, this is a time when they’re feeling out friendships, and there can be a fear that 'if I have to spend time with mom and dad, my friends will all be hanging out together and I’ll miss something,’” says Savage. Including the friends in your plans solves this problem, plus, “parents can learn a lot by meeting the student’s friends.”

Don’t feel you have to sign up for all the events, but attend at least a few. Colleges are doing their best to impress you, so they will put on a good show. “You will find out about subjects like consumer ecology that you didn’t even know existed,” says Rothman. “And any lecture you attend you can be sure is with the most stellar professor.” She also recommends attending the football game, if offered, because “it’s probably the most iconic event of the weekend” and gives you a great feel for the culture of the college.

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