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College Visits and Helicopter Parents: A Bad Combination

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As the end of my junior year is quickly approaching, there is only one thing on my mind: college. This shouldn't be a surprise, as the college application process needs to be underway right when school resumes again in September. I certainly need to assess all my options, and find which school is the best fit for me. As the clock is ticking down, I, like many high school juniors, spent my spring break on a weeklong road trip visiting colleges.

Wow, am I exhausted.

I always thought my parents were erratic when it comes to school. But while they certainly make education their number-one priority, they have made it clear to me that wherever I apply to college will be my choice and my choice only (with the exception of some California schools, out of fear that I will enjoy life in the Golden State too much, and never return home). While taking an active interest in the schools I went to see, my parents made sure that I was the one feeling the experience, because after all, I will be the one spending four years at the school of my choice.

Unfortunately, at each university, it seemed as if my parents were only part of a very small minority who felt this way. While I was delighted to have my parents take a back-seat approach on these visits, other prospective students did not have this luxury, as their parents certainly grabbed the steering wheel. I am sure that these parents who made everything about them will without a doubt try to vigorously steer their children to their own desired destination. I know it's no surprise that many parents just hold nothing back when it comes to the college admission process, but I am still in shock about some of the things I have witnessed at my recent college visits.

At every college information session I have attended so far, parents have inquired whether their son or daughter would have a special application process for the university's law school if they attended the college. I cannot even begin to fathom how parents could be looking so far to the future. Here they are, with their kids having a good six months before they need to apply to colleges, and they are already worrying about law school. Most high school juniors have yet to decide on potential majors. Would these parents like the school to offer an all in one college-graduate school-job plan? While they are at it, they might as well throw in a retirement plan and funeral arrangements. I can't see how parents could be so sure of their children's plans so far in advance that they must waste the precious time of hundreds of other prospective students at the information sessions.

I also found it ridiculous that some parents feel the need to preface every information session question with their children's accomplishments. "My daughter has been conducting medical research since she was in elementary school. Will it be easy for her to continue here?" or, "My son was named the top trumpeter in all of Texas, where can he audition here?" Even worse was the fact that many of the same parents magically reappeared with their children at each school we went to see, asking their same boastful questions, and taking away from the valuable information shared by the presenters.

When one goes to visit a university, one of the most beneficial experiences he/she can have to get a feel for the campus is the (usually theater) student-led tour. As you navigate through the storied original buildings juxtaposed against the sleek new structures, campus tours are meant to be the ultimate opportunity for students to see a potential school through the eyes of a student. Yet, there is one problem: many parents see it as another chance for them to take over and ruin the experience for other prospective students.

Often, I've seen parents look to impress the student tour guides as if they were the actual admissions officers. While these guides want to show everyone the beautiful stained glass windows and paneled wood of a library or dining hall (and of course claim that every dramatic building on campus looks just like Hogwarts), the parents seem only interested in making it clear how amazing they think their kids are. Shockingly, some who don't do this seem to take the other extreme path, challenging the qualifications and intelligence of tour guides. I've heard some parents ask for SAT scores and other personal information, and others just blatantly insult the entire school altogether. Meanwhile, all I'm looking for is a view of campus life at each school!

Still, the most frustrating part of any tour is without a doubt the constant feeling that there is a continuous race to the front. Being a hearing-impaired individual, I tried my best to stay close to the tour guides, because even the best theater students can be hard to hear as you are walking around. However, no matter how hard I tried to keep close to the front, I always seemed to find myself floating to the back. It was just impossible to keep up as other parents raced to the front and looked viciously at anyone trying to weasel their way past them. Instead of feeling like a tour, it seemed to resemble the "Indian run" or "last man sprint" that I used to do with my team when I played soccer. For those who are unfamiliar with this conditioning drill, basically the entire team runs spaced out in a line, and whoever is in back runs at a faster pace to the front of the line. When he/she makes it to the front, the new last person runs to the front. This continues on for however long the drill (or campus tour for that matter) lasts. Yes, it's exhausting -- especially when you are expecting a relaxing stroll through the quads.

My purpose in explaining my dissatisfaction with these experiences is not to simply lament or declare war on college-crazed parents. More importantly, I believe that it's necessary for colleges to think about reevaluating their systems for welcoming prospective students to visit. Maybe parents should simply be separated from their children at information sessions and tours. Students need to be able to see potential schools through their own eyes, and not be distracted by the outlandish actions of their parents -- or the parents of others. Yes, it's crucial for parents to be active in helping their children pick the right college. But when parents hover too closely, it can ruin the experience for everyone.