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Should Grandparents Go on College Visits With Grandchildren?

Touring Campuses Together Can Be a Bonding Experience


Grandparents on college visits with grandchildren should give them time to explore on their own.

Grandchildren on college visits should have some time to explore on their own.

Photo © Jupiterimages / Getty

When you see people who look like grandparents on a college campus, don't assume that they are professors. They could be students engaged in lifelong learning, and they could also be visiting campus with their grandchildren. Although no one is keeping statistics on the phenomenon, more and more grandparents are chauffeuring their grandchildren to college campuses and accompanying their grandchildren on college visits. Sometimes the grandparents are draftees, and sometimes they are volunteers. In both cases, such visits can be boons for both grandparents and grandchildren.

Why Grandparents?

Taking high school kids to visit college campuses has traditionally been one of the responsibilities of parenthood. With the growth of two-career families and job-related travel, sometimes parents aren't available for college visits, especially when students want to visit a lot of colleges. Sometimes grandparents are asked on college visits by default.

In other cases, grandparents may be asked to accompany parents and children on college visits, creating a three-generation visiting group. Sometimes grandparents are invited because they will be paying all or part of the cost of college.

Advantages of Grandparent-Grandchild College Visits

Because grandparents and grandchildren tend to have a relaxed, mutually tolerant relationship, grandparents can make great companions for visiting colleges. "Grandparents are generally much more supportive and unconditional in their praise," said Peter Jennings, Director of College Counseling at the Concord Academy in Massachusetts, who has previously commented on including grandparents on college visits. Grandparents are less likely to take control of a conversation, according to Mark P. Meleney, Florida State University Admissions Officer.

For a grandparent, visiting a campus with a grandchild can be invaluable in staying close to a growing-up grandchild. The visit itself can be a bonding experience, and the grandparent will also have a much better idea about the world that the grandchild is about to enter.

When Inviting Grandparents Might Not Be Wise

Some grandparents should not be invited on college visits. These include grandparents who are very conservative and old-fashioned, unless the campus involved is similarly oriented. If grandparents are shocked by seeing co-ed dorms or by encountering campus demonstrations, they won't be of much use to anyone.

The other type of grandparent who does not make a good campus visitor is the type who can't sit back and let the grandchild ask the questions, although generally speaking grandparents are less often guilty of this than are parents. Also, grandparents should be brought up to speed on "the current state of college selectivity" before the visit, according to Jennings, so that they have realistic expectations about the choices open to their grandchildren.

What Time Is Best for Visits?

College campuses often invite prospective students to visit on particular days. On those days, students may have access to resources that may not be available on a daily basis. Visits on regular weekdays may give students a better idea of what the campus is really like. Whenever they choose to visit, students "need to dig a little deeper than the surface," according to Jennings. He suggests visiting the student center and talking to students who aren't tour guides or otherwise associated with the admissions office.

Together or Apart?

Grandparents may be unsure which parts of the college visit they should be present for. If a visit is scheduled at a time designated for prospective students, the college will help with this part, by designating some activities for students only, some for parents/grandparents and some for all family members. If a visit falls on a regular school day, the guidelines are less clear. Meleney advises that grandparents participate in campus tours and informational meetings, as well as meetings with advisors. If a grandchild wants to go check out the student center, that's something that he or she could do alone. Meleney advises visitors to "give each other space" while visiting campuses, saying that grandchildren should be allowed to "explore some things alone or with peers." Grandparents should look for subtle signals that it's time for them to bow out for a bit, while remembering that they are in charge of a child who may be a minor.

Defining the Grandparent's Role

In some cases, the parents and or students plan the trip for the grandparent. All the grandparent will have to do is show up. If, however, a grandparent is drafted because the parents are in a busy or high-stress cycle, the grandparent may need to take a more active role, which may include reading advice about making the most of campus visits.

Once the arrangments are made, grandparents should think about how they can be helpful without being intrusive. Generally speaking, grandparents are most valuable as listeners and discreet note-takers. "Ideally, parents and grandparents alike should do more observing than asking a lot of questions. That's the job of the student," Jennings said. A grandparent's most valuable contribution may come during the assessment period following the visit. "The primary job of the grandparent in my mind is to help summarize the visit," Jennings said.

What Grandparents Will See That Is Different

Since some students are first-generation college-goers, visiting college campuses may be a new experience for everyone in the party. That's even more reason to make such visits. First-generation students "should know that they are very much a valued commodity to colleges," Jennings said. He suggested that students might ask admissions offices to connect them with other students who have gone through this transition.

Grandparents who have attended college will still notice several changes in addition to the almost-ubiquitous co-ed dorms. They may notice the diversity of the student population and the vastly different role that technology plays. Meleney mentions that libraries have a more social role today. They may not be the temples of quiet that they once were. Jennings suggests that grandparents may be surprised by the quality of the food, the housing and the athletic facilities, as well as by the breadth of support services. "Most grandparents would be shocked at how well students live these days, " he said.

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