As students begin the daunting task (for some) of writing tightly worded, critically important essay for each college’s prompts one can almost feel the air being sucked out of the room. Is there anything that can help with this yearly task that sends our teens into panic mode even before the 1stdraft? Well there are a number of things that you can do to help your teen weeks or even days before they first sit down to write.

First help them understand that it is a process, that chances are it will not be one and done. Great writing is not accomplished without multiple drafts.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Ernest HemingwayThe Paris Review Interview, 1956

If your teen visited the college’s campus about which s/he is writing, remind them to review the notes and photos they took while on campus.

That Student Meetup

Encourage your teen to revisit their trip by remembering what stood out. Maybe it was the meeting with a current student at the campus coffee shop. Perhaps it was the set up of the science lab with its shiny Bunsen burners. Was there something on the walking tour that stood out, or something the tour guide said about their reasons for choosing that school? A specific course taught by a professor they met or that they audited? These memories should kick start the process. If not or they didn’t get the opportunity to visit a specific college’s campus now would be a good time to strap-on a Google Cardboard Virtual Reality headset and spend some time virtually visiting the school. Go to Google and search for the schools app. Most schools have one.

Visit a local College Campus

Another suggestion would be to go visit a local college campus. Just being on a college campus can do wonders to put your student in the right frame of mind to write their essay.

As Founder of Custom College Visits I’ll admit to being pro-visits for college bound teens. But it’s not just me. There have been numerous research studies where high school and college students have been asked to rank the factors that influenced their college choice. Visiting a college’s campus almost always ranks as the top influencer.

So whether you visit colleges local to your community or halfway around the world as many of our clients who have come to the US to visit have done, please understand that campus visits can be incredibly helpful to your student in so many ways.




Parents of college bound students overwhelmed with the process of planning multi-day, multi-campus college visits will be pleased to learn about Custom College Visits’ website. Chock full of information on planning college tours for your teen, the site also provides information on the company’s four core services:

  • Itinerary and logistics planning
  • Development of prospective college lists
  • Travel arrangements
  • And on-campus arrangements

Janice Caine, founder of Custom College Visits states, “from personal experience, I know that the college search process can be both time consuming and stressful. But, it can also be rewarding; the college road trip is a unique opportunity for parents and teens to spend quality time together. The purpose behind CustomCollegeVisits.com is to let people know that we understand the process and we can help them simplify their planning, so that families can enjoy this time together.”

Custom College Visits’ services are custom tailored to your family’s needs, whether you’re visiting colleges close to home, across the country or from overseas. All itineraries are planned personally by me, Janice Caine, an experienced travel & meeting planner and founder of Custom College Visits.

A few pages you might wish to check out:

A Well-Managed College Plan

Social Media Courseware for your teen

10 Mistakes Students and Parents Make When Visiting College Campuses (and How to Avoid Them!)

Our Services


Sometimes it’s important to review older posts and bring them current for new readers of Custom College Visits blogs. The book Letting Go has been a perennial favorite for parents of high school and college students. Here’s Janice’s post from a few years ago:

I have been reading the book, Letting Go, by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger. The book is a great source of information for parents who will be sending their children off to college as well as for those that have a child in the first years of college.

I came across a section of the book yesterday that I thought particularly poignant and wanted to share it with readers of the Custom College Visits blog. The authors write, For parents too, the freshman year is a rite of passage, a passage to a new relationship with their sons and daughters. They conclude this chapter of their book with the following excerpt from The Harvard Parents Handbook:

For parents, the freedom freshmen enjoy can be hard to accept. So can recognizing how little you can now appropriately and directly do to shape the daily round of your sons or daughters experiences or his or her life style choices, curricular, or career plansA young person is setting out on his or her own lives course. Don’t try to hold the course you set and have been sailing together for seventeen years. It is very hard to sail a ship with two pilots. Come along, by all means. But keep in mind that is a new voyage, someone else’s voyage. This way college can be the shared and happy embarkation it ought to be.



One of the benefits of planning college visits for our clients is that we get lots of emails from colleges. These emails range from simple confirmations of a student’s walking tour and information session to informative notes about each college. I’ve tweeted @CollegeVisitTip and written before about the importance of students checking their emails (and reading them) but I thought I might blog a bit about what students might glean from these emails that might help with the admissions process and their essays.

Colleges spend lots of time and lots of money to send emails, texts and snail mail to students. As with all promotional campaigns, much time is invested in the planning, creation and execution. And of course, there is an expected result too—convincing students to apply to their particular college. That said, these marketing pieces can also be a gold mine of information for students to use when applying.

 I was recently copied on an email that was addressed to a prospective student who is a client of ours. It is titled: What Penn Looks For. The email came from Eric J. Furda, Penn’s Dean of Admissions. I spent some time dissecting his email and suggest your teens do the same to emails, texts and other marketing materials that they may receive from the institutions they are interested in. You never know what they might learn that will help them with their application.

Dear Jane,

This fall, Penn’s campus is transformed as 2,523 new students move into their College Houses. Our vibrant community welcomes this spark—Penn is an extraordinary place to grow and be.  

As kind citizens, bold thinkers, and revolutionary contributors, Penn students bring more than academic achievement to our University. Each student adds their own vitality to our analytical seminars, spirited student groups, and lively city of Philadelphia. 

Uncover where your curiosity leads at Penn. If you discover a strong connection and believe Penn is the right fit for you, consider applying Early Decision. As you work on your application for either application cycle, keep these writing tips in mind.

Your future is bright. We look forward to getting to know you through your application.

Eric J. Furda, C’87
Dean of Admissions

Take Aways

The email header has a nice meme that I interpret as Penn seeking students who are willing to challenge themselves, the school and others. To shape, to inspire, to create and challenge speaks to individualism and breaking the status quo. And, that your education should be one of discovery, inspiration and should be self-driven. If those ideals speak to your teen then he or she should consider applying to Penn.

The body of the email provides additional information for you.  It speaks to transformation, vibrancy and spark all resulting from the new students on campus this fall 2018.

The second paragraph starts with “As kind citizens, bold thinkers and revolutionary contributors…” and goes on to speak about Penn students and how they bring more than academic achievement to the University.

He also provides you with a link to writing tips for your admission application. This may be valuable information regardless of whether or not your teen decides to apply to Penn!

I believe I know what a bold thinker and revolutionary contributor is but I’m not sure what a Dean Furda means when he uses the term kind citizen. So, perhaps this is an opening to contact the Dean. That would show curiosity, interest and maybe even boldness. Will it help your admissions application? Maybe, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. 

Not every email needs to be critiqued, and not every email, text or marketing piece gives hints of what a college admissions officer is looking for, but if you don’t read them you’ll never know.

Alan Caine


Parents, Make the Most of College Tours With Your Teen

I recently ran across a rather lengthy Q&A with college counselors on the job of parents when present on their children’s college visits. The Q&A was written a number of years ago, but for the most part, the advice given would probably be similar to what you would get if you asked the same question today. Summing up 117 counselors’ responses, 85% said stay in the background, don’t embarrass your child or yourself, don’t ask questions and don’t say ‘We.” Accept that it is your student who will be attending and it is your student who needs to figure out if they like the institution, the community, and the campus.

Experience from North of 150 US College Tours

Janice and I have probably been on 150 plus US college tours over the past 10 years.Some with ourchildren when they were doing the college visit circuit, others as a college counselor checking out schools we think our clients would be interested in attending. Other than the campus visits that were specifically for college counselors, there were always teens and parents around for us to observe. Here’s what I can tell you: for every counselor who tells the parents to stay in the background, stay silent and don’t embarrass their child, there will be a parent who is at the head of the tour asking embarrassing questions, and has no clue as to what their child needs to figure out as they spend time on each campus. In addition to embarrassing questions and behavior, there is also the parent who thinks it’s better to visit 18 schools in ten days rather than sit down with their child and figure out which are the most important schools on the list ensuring that their teen spends quality time on each of those campuses. So what’s a parent to do?

Suggested Guidelines

From parents who have provided us with feedback from the trips that we have planned for their family, our personal experiences and some common sense here are some suggested guidelines:

Whether you are visiting one campus or plan to be on the road for a lengthy period of time traveling thousands of miles and staying in strange beds every night, make sure you and your teen have prepared a detailed itinerary for the trip. Knowing in advance where to be, when to be there, how to get there and with whom to meet takes many layers of stress off the table and helps you manage expectations with your teen.

Give your teen the benefit of the doubt and if you need to take some deep breaths and count to 10, do that. There are so many stories of parents pulling up to the campus gate and the teen refusing to get out of the car or did not like the tour guide because they had yellow socks and sandals, or they were too tired to go on after visiting schools for a week. You know your child best, and although you might have spent days setting up travel, hotels, and events for the day, and hundreds of dollars getting there, you probably won’t succeed in getting your teen to change their mind, so take a break or move on to the next stop.

College Road Trips Can be Memorable Experiences

We believe that parents should take an active part in the campus visit. They should ask questions, be involved in the planning, and be the extra set of eyes and ears for the student. But we also believe that common sense and decency should prevail. Don’t embarrass your son or daughter, or the tour guide. Hang back and let your teen take the lead. A good idea is to let your student check out the campus on their own. Set-up a meeting time and location so that everyone keeps to the schedule. If you have questions about campus safety, medical services, etc. go find the answers to your questions, separately. You should never be afraid of asking questions as a parent, that is part of the job, no matter what anyone else thinks. Life can be a tortured road if your student ends up in the wrong place.

Here are links to some previous blogs that might be of interest:

Bonding with your Teen on College Road Trips

Parent’s Guide to Planning College Visits



You and your college-bound teen just spent a day (maybe more) traveling to the first stop on your week-long college road trip. You’ve settled into your hotel and are planning an early start so you can have a full day on campus. Your teen has dreamed of visiting this college for a long time and you are looking forward to them getting a first-hand feel for this and the other college communities you will be visiting. You will find that in-person visits are the best way to become familiar with a college campus. As you plan, consider the following ten mistakes many students and parents have made, so both you and your teen avoid making the same ones and get the most out of each campus visit.


If you don’t check in at the admissions offices, colleges have no way of knowing that you were on campus. Visiting a college and letting them know you were there can strengthen your chances of admission, because it shows you did your due diligence–commonly referred to as your demonstrated interest. The more you can connect with a college by attending an information session, taking a walking tour, emailing or interacting with admission officers on social media or attending events in your local area,  it will seem to the college and the admissions officers that you’ve done your research. They can be fairly confident that you will accept and enroll if offered admission to that school. Even if you are doing a self-guided tour, make sure the admissions offices know you’re on campus.


Whether it is knowing where to park or setting up a appointment to meet with a student, professor, admission counselor or coach on campus, it’s important for you and your student to do your research before you travel.

For instance: Parking can be difficult at many colleges and universities and parking tickets can be costly. Knowing where to park (and to not park!) will save you both time and trouble.

Although your student might be able strike up a conversation with a student or two while on campus, and we do recommend that, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to spend extensive time with a student or professor unless you have planned the meet-up in advance. There are opportunities for your student, they just need to reach out and get commitments and contact information before arriving on campus.


Having each day planned out with times, meeting places, maps and all contact information will make your trip run so much smoother. Even with detailed, daily itineraries at their fingertips, we have had a couple of clients tell us they have forgotten to go to appointments. Imagine how much more difficulty it would be to navigate an activity-filled day without this information readily accessible.

Here’s an example: If you’re stuck in traffic, a meeting has run long or you’re lost on campus, having contact information at your fingertips will make it easier for you to let someone know you’re still on your way.

Hotel can’t find your reservation or you arrive late at night? Having your booking information on your daily itinerary will make it easy for you to retrieve your reservation.


You expect your teen to be respectful and cordial when on campus, so don’t be that parent that other students and parents will talk about after the tour. Remember, this is your teen’s time to explore. It is your student who needs to ask most of the questions, to get the feel of the campus and the college community. But chances are, if they’re like most teenagers, they won’t feel at ease asking questions if you’re right beside them or overpowering them. It’s ok to ask questions but don’t embarrass them or the tour guide. Don’t lead, follow. Be helpful but not overpowering.


When planning your student’s on-campus visits, be sure to allow time to look around at all aspects of the college. Let your teen wander around on their own. Visit areas you might not have seen on the tour but are important to your student. Is s/he interested in the performing arts? Find out how to visit the facilities on campus. How about the fine arts? Would it be possible for someone to show them around the studio? Taking the time to explore is well worth the time and effort. It will help your teen determine whether or not the college is a good fit for their personality and for his/her short and long term goals. 


Some colleges can arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student in their dorm room. If this is something your teen would like to do, check with the admissions offices as far in advance as possible to find out if they offer the opportunity and if so, when these arrangements are available, their particular policies, and when to to register–the spots do fill up quickly! This is one of the most valuable experiences that your student can have during the college search process; many students miss this opportunity either because they don’t know about it or because they plan too late.

If your teen does arrange an overnight, make sure you both have secondary contact information in case a problem arises; and have a talk with your son or daughter about their responsibilities when on campus. We’ve heard some stories of visiting students heading off in their own direction and not communicating with their host as to where they are. You and your teen should discuss in advance what they hope to get out of their overnight experience and understand that they are guests of the college.


Whether visiting as part of a group or with parents, students should be prepared with questions. Your teen should do some research before they arrive on campus so the questions they ask are those that through their research they have not found answers to–this will allow them to benefit the most from the time they have with tour guides and admissions staff. Some teens hesitate to ask questions because they are shy or afraid they may sound foolish. Others hesitate because they do not want to annoy the others in the group by holding up the tour. Neither fear is warranted. In fact there’s no better time to ask questions than during a campus tour. If your teen has questions in mind, they should ask them.  It will help them make informed decisions.

When it comes to asking questions, don’t stop at the student conducting the tour. Ask admissions staff, teaching and laboratory staff and even current students you meet throughout the day.


Campus visits are a great opportunity for colleges to sell their services to eager students and their parents. While most colleges and universities do deliver on their promises, they tend to highlight their best side while downplaying some of their shortcomings. The landscaping along the driveway will probably be immaculate and you are likely to hear about the number of volumes in the library, the new sporting or theater facility or hi-tech classrooms. Don’t be immediately swayed. Look around and ask questions.

During your campus visit, it is important to stay focused on what matters most to your teen. But you can also pay attention to the things that will make a difference to you as a parent. For instance, if you know your son or daughter is interested in studying STEM, check out  the labs and the research facilities–don’t get caught up in the hype about the rock wall.


To find out how things really work, spend some time getting insider information from those who have nothing to gain—current students. Sitting down and having coffee or lunch with a current student will provide valuable insight into the things that really matter to your student. Before the day of your campus visit, make a list of questions to ask students.

Questions your student might ask are:

“What do you like most about the college?”

“Why did you choose this college?”

“What’s it like to live in this college dorm?”

“What does your typical weekend look like?”

“Might you tell me what don’t you like about the college?”

“Do you find the professors, administrators and staff helpful/supportive?”

“Can I text you if I have additional questions?” (ask for their phone number)


Ignoring the surrounding area is a mistake that could impact your teen’s whole college experience. Each community surrounding a college is completely unique. Let’s say you live in a rural area and your teen is visiting a college in a a big city with very little campus. Is this the environment that your teen is looking for? Will it be exciting or intimidating and overwhelming? If you have time, hop on a bus or subway that may be the transportation that your teen will use often if s/he should decide to attend this school. Find out where the dorms will be be–will it be too noisy?

If your teen comes from a bigger city with a lot going on, how will it feel to be in a more suburban or rural campus? Is there enough to do on campus that it won’t matter? Is there anything to do within a 10-15 minute walk? If not, how easy is it to get to the grocery store or Target? If s/he is not going to have a car, does the school provide transportation or is there a local bus?

Surroundings do matter. Your teen will be spending four to five years in college and it is important to not be in the wrong setting. Spend some time discovering the restaurants, cultural centers, museums and other facilities that the neighborhood offers and ask your teen if this is a place where they would be happy to call home.

A campus visit can give you and your teen great information. Information that will help them make the right college choice.

We hope this article is helpful as you embark on what should be a fun and memorable journey with your teen. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions, require resources, or need advice.


Walking around a college campus, visiting with current students and professors, getting a ‘feel’ for the campus and the academics is all part of a successful college campus visit. Most colleges and universities schedule walking tours and information sessions year-round. Over our nine years in business, we have done many, many itineraries for families during summertime. We are, however, often asked if it makes sense to visit their teen’s preferred list of colleges over the summer when most classes are not in session.

In a perfect world, everyone would like to schedule visits during the school year, but taking time during the school year is often difficult for both parents and students. For many families, it’s just impossible to visit all of the colleges on a student’s list at one time.

For so many reasons, college visits (see Why are College Visits Important blog post) are important—so visit when it works for you. No matter what time of year, they are still the best way for your teen to get a good feel for the culture and ambiance of each college.


Many colleges offer summer classes for enrolled students and on many campuses there are students that stay during the summer for work or to do research. Dartmouth College sophomores are actually required to spend the summer on campus. So while you won’t see as many students as during the fall and spring semesters, chances are there will still be students about for you to interact with. [If you want to make sure that you spend time on campus during colleges summer sessions, check the website before you make your travel plans.]


During summer months, colleges and universities continue to offer guided campus tours that are led by current students and the admissions offices do hold information sessions. In fact, at some colleges and universities it is the perfect time to schedule a personal interview. And because the admissions counselors are not as busy during the summer, students may have the chance to ask more questions and get a more in-depth view of the school.


Many institutions offer open houses and discovery days for high school students during the summer. Make sure your teen registers on the websites of those colleges that are of interest to them. They will be notified of any special events that the colleges may be hosting for prospective students and you can plan accordingly. Remember, these special events usually fill up quickly, so you should plan as far in advance as possible.


Combining a Family Vacation and College Visits

If you have the time and flexibility, it may make sense to combine college visits with a family vacation. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Sightseeing Gems on College Campuses, many colleges and universities boast historic landmarks, museums, halls of fame, gardens and other points of interest right on their campuses.


Exploring the area (whether a small town or large city) around the college is also important. You’ll find that many college towns offer a wide variety of things to do, and visiting will give your teen an opportunity to visit restaurants and other places frequented by college students. Afterward, you may want to head to one of the cities nearby where there are plenty of plays, museums, attractions and dining options for you to enjoy. Or, if your family loves the outdoors and for example, if you’re planning to visit colleges in Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine you can find plenty of hiking, boating and more!


If you’ve been on the fence about taking a college visit road trip this summer, go ahead and make the plans! Colleges and universities around the country welcome students to their campuses and you and your teen will be glad you took the time to visit.


Each year, the National Association of College Admissions Counselor (NACAC) offers
free college fairs for students and their parents throughout the US. These events area great way for students to gather information and talk one-on-one with
representatives from 200 to 400 colleges and universities, all in one location.

In addition to the National College Fairs, NACAC also hosts Performance and Visual
Arts College Fairs as well as STEM and Career Fairs.

Click on this link https://www.nacacfairs.org/attend/national-college-fairs/
and scroll down to see if NACAC will be holding a fair near you this fall. Then follow
the prompts to register.

You may also want to check out NACAC’s article, Making the Most of Your Visit to a
National College Fair:


The time to realize a college or university campus isn’t what your teen thought isn’t when they show up with their luggage.

As we head into the holiday season and with teens home for winter vacation, parents and teen’s thoughts turn to that rite of passage – the college tour. Are you planning a half-day tour of a local campus or a week long tour to visit multiple campuses across the northeast, south or west coast?Planning in advance can and will play an important role in insuring things go smoothly.

First, planning college visits in advance gives your teen a chance to research each campus. They can view the surrounding area and determine what else they might wish to visit.  Ask students or friends who go to the college to find what else should be seen in addition to what’s pointed out on the walking tour.

Second, it can take stress out of the planning process and the actual trip if you know in advance where you are going. It’s better to know where you need to be on each campus for your appointments. Traffic and traffic patterns change due to construction, weather and other factors. Make sure you leave plenty of time getting from city to city and campus to campus.

College visits are important parts of the college admission process. If you’d like assistance planning your multi-campus, multi-day tour please contact us to learn about our services. 


Are you a parent of a college-bound teen? Do you feel left in the dark about the college search process? Please know you are not alone. Many of the parents who call us at Custom College Visits are experiencing the same feeling. High schools and colleges…

Please know you are not alone. Many of the parents who call us at Custom College Visits are experiencing the same feeling. High schools and colleges traditionally place most if not all of the process and responsibility on your teen–and yes, your teen should take full responsibility for their college search; that said, our belief is that there are important roles for parents in the college admission and selection process and I’m not speaking of the recent illegal tactics that came to light in the recent college admission scandal the government nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues.

College planning should start early. It doesn’t have to be hard core, but starting in the second half of junior year puts many students at a disadvantage.

There are multiple signs that the admission process is getting more competitive. Factors involved are:

  • The ability of more students to apply to many more schools because of online applications
  • Colleges closing and merging due to a lack of funding
  • International students applying to US colleges and Universities who began their process in grade school

Information on the schools and the process is plentiful, but parsing through it takes time that many don’t have. Other factors are:

  • The lack of college counselors at many public schools
  • Misinformation about the admission process and financial aid
  • Lack of resources for parent education on admission and financial aid
  • Students busy with day-to-day coursework, athletics, work, family responsibilities, standardized test prep and more.

In our experience, it doesn’t matter how successful you are as a parent, business owner or corporate executive or how wealthy you are–you probably have important questions that need answers.

With proper knowledge and planning everything doesn’t have to be confusing or last minute.

  • Understanding how your high school works with regard to transcripts and recommendations helps prevent last minute runs to the high school office and late admission submissions
  • Not scheduling family events and vacations during prime admission essay writing and submission time will lower the stress
  • If you are using an independent college counselor, understand how they work. Although students might think nothing of pulling an all-nighter, your student should respect that texting with the IEC at 11:00pm is not responsible.

As a parent, you do need to be careful of the questions you ask. Being on a walking tour and asking about sexual activity, drug use on campus or personal questions of the tour guide are bound to embarrass the tour guide and your teen, resulting in your teen not speaking with you, nor wanting to go with you on additional tours.

Are you going through the process or about to embark on an admission journey with your son or daughter? Please comment below with experiences, lessons learned and questions you have. We’d love to hear from you.

Happy Holidays!