College students and parents of college students: Question for you: What's up for spring break this year?
Traveling to “fun" destinations? Coming home for break? Even staying on campus?
There has been some sobering news lately concerning some of the traditionally favorite spring break spots. Have you seen it?
At least four people have been killed after gunmen opened fire at government offices in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun, a day after at least five people diedin a shooting at a music festival nearby.
Rodolfo del Angel Campos, chief of police for the state of Quintana Roo, said gunfire broke out at the state attorney general's office in Cancun, a city that is one of the most popular seaside destinations for foreign tourists in Mexico.
Police intervened, and the alarm was sounded, activating federal police and the armed forces, del Angel said, adding that other installations were also attacked. Television broadcast outbreaks of afternoon gunfire in Cancun. …
Two consecutive days of shooting attacks that left a total of nine dead have put two of the jewels of Mexico's Caribbean coast on edge and spurred a warning to tourists by the U.S. government. …
So, you may want to consider another south-of-the-border destination. But, maybe you have a Kevlar vest. (Just kidding.)
Some time ago, I started a thread about spring break in Cancun on the College Confidential discussion forum. It inspired a few interesting comments, such as, “I wouldn't let my kids anywhere near that [pejorative] hole." Another poster wrote, “Visiting colleges in MD, VA, and NC here," which provides a convenient segue into my topic of the day: visiting colleges on spring break.
Obviously, making college visits on spring break is a task mainly for high school juniors and their parents. Sometimes even sophomores can get in on the action. The logistics can be complicated, however, because of the need to coordinate schedules with Mom and Dad, who may not be able to arrange their work demands to accommodate several days, or even a week, of travel. Of course, there's always the possibility that a high schooler could coattail on a classmate's venture, if parents are unable to rearrange their work schedules.
Yes, spring break is not exclusively for college students. High school sophomores and juniors have some options, too. Let's take a look at college visits.
If you do have the opportunity to do some college visiting during your high school spring break, you and your parents may want to initiate some advance planning. I searched for some tips that parents can follow while anticipating a college-visit road trip and found a long list, courtesy of Sylvan Learning. Here are some highlights:
– Start by Casting a Wide Net – If you and your teenager haven't already done so, start by putting together a big list of potential schools of interest – up to 20 schools – for further investigation and research. Carefully consider a wide range of selection criteria, such as, geographic location, rural/suburban/urban campus setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic strengths and offerings, and athletic programs, among others. Include a range of “dream," “target" (strong odds of acceptance based on your teen's test scores, GPA, etc.) and “safety" schools.
– Finalize Your Target Tour List – Once you have your initial pool of possible school targets, narrow that list to a more realistic number of schools to visit – schools that meet the criteria for your teen and your family. Fine tuning your list can largely be done by visiting schools' Web sites, reviewing college guides from the library or bookstore and, of course, by working with your teen's school guidance counselor. Other students, friends and family members can also offer invaluable insights.
– Visit While College is in Session – Every family's final “visit" list of schools is different; some travel to 12 or more campuses while others only a handful. Based on the geography of your target tour list, you may in fact wind up making a few road trips – perhaps one over spring break and then one or two long weekend treks. Regardless of how many campuses you visit, make sure to schedule your visits while college is in session and students are attending classes. Don't visit during midterms or finals and avoid weekend visits if at all possible, since classes are seldom held then. Be sure to call ahead and check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visit/interview policies. If spring proves problematic because your target schools have spring break the same week your teen does, fall of senior year is also an ideal time to visit.
– Remember the 2/2/2 Rule – Two schools a day. Don't try to visit more than two schools a day, especially if the schools aren't close together. Any more than that and you'll never have enough time to really get a fair sense of the school, which after all, is the entire point of taking the road trip.
Two question limit. Given that most teens find their parents embarrassing under any circumstances, they are especially sensitive to mom or dad asking numerous questions on the campus tour. Try to limit your questions to two vital topics. For example, focus on safety and financial aid.
Speak with at least two professors or students from your teen's intended major. Now is your -and your teenager's – time to determine if this learning environment is right for your family. Ask a student, “What is the quality of faculty advising? Which outstanding professors or courses does he/she recommend for that specific major?" Speak to a professor about general education requirements, which classes are most popular and fill up quickly, and which classes should be completed in the first year.
– Ask Questions to Make the Most of Your Visit – Encourage your teen to ask as many questions as possible – and ask different people the same questions to see if you get different answers. In addition to the official tour guide, speak with students, professors, librarians, or other representatives based on topics of interest to your student.
– Go Beyond the Official Campus Tour to Get the “Inside Skinny" – Official campus tours are almost always 30-60 minute student-led affairs that give a good overview of the college, its facilities, academic offerings and student life. They're a good place to start, but by doing a little advanced homework, your family can round out your visit with other campus experiences that can help you and your teen get the “inside skinny" on the school. If any family members, friends, or recent graduates of your teen's school are enrolled, have coffee or meet with him or her. If your teen is an athlete, musician, artist, or has another special interest, call in advance to arrange a meeting with the coach or other relevant faculty members.
– Eat on Campus – What teenager doesn't place a high priority on food? Most schools allow visitors to eat on campus; so eat in the dining hall or other on-campus eating establishments to give your teen a firsthand “taste" of the school's food while also saving money. Likewise, if you need overnight lodging, consider allowing your teenager to stay in a dorm. Even if you don't know a student with whom your child can stay, many schools will arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student – if you call in advance. Parents will save money by only paying for one hotel room (or booking a smaller room) and the prospective student will gain an invaluable chance to experience dorm life.
– Create a Photo Diary – Believe it or not, once your family arrives home from your college tour road trip, all those campuses may start to blur together – especially if you visit numerous schools. Use your digital camera to take a lot of photos -even videos – during your visits to create a record of each school. Your first photo of each school should show the college name on a sign or building to ensure you remember which school you visited. You and your teen can create an online folder for each school or print out the photos and keep them in folders with the other informational material you'll pick up on your visits.
Now, back to you college students …
Most colleges schedule their spring breaks around early March. If you want to see when some of the top colleges have scheduled spring break, take a look at Student City's helpful listing. Also, if you think it's way too early to start planning for spring break, you might want to check these suggestions. For example:
Note that in order to prepare for a Spring Break vacation you need to allow yourself adequate time and resources to make your trip possible. At least 5 months prior to your Spring Break you should begin to think about the location that you want to visit.
That's right. These experts suggest starting your planning process five months ahead of spring break. So, let's say your spring break happens the first week of March. According to this planning approach, if you haven't yet done anything about arranging your break details, you're already months behind schedule! Time to get with it, people!
So, let's see what some others have to say about planning (timely or otherwise) for that spring break.
One of the “others" I'd like to cite here is yours truly. The first step in planning your spring break is to get permission and an understanding from your parents. Some college students feel that they are entitled to their spring break adventure. They may have no idea how the expense of the trip will impact family finances. Anyway, just a word to the wise (and considerate). Keep Mom and Dad in the loop.
As far as an overall strategy for planning (once you've cleared things with your parents), here are some highlights from a detailed planning scenario by spring breaker Mom, Candice:
– How To Avoid a Spring Break Power Struggle
[Did you know that there can be warring factions involved in spring break planning?]
First and foremost, a Spring Break Leader needs to be appointed. Sure, this can be a self-appointed role. Just realize that you are going to take on a lot of responsibility, and you will receive ALL of the blame if the Spring Break trip is a stinker. However, you will receive a lot of praise if it's AWESOME– and you'll probably be asked to plan the subsequent Spring Breaks while you're at college.
You can appoint yourself Spring Break leader without being obnoxious at all. Say something to your friends like, “I was thinking about all of us going on Spring Break together. Would you want to?" Once they agree, tell them that you would be happy to plan the trip. Usually, no one else wants to take on the responsibility, so you will be a shoe in . . .
– Deciding Where To Go
[If you need help in this area, check out some sites like this.]
Okay, now that you've gotten the leadership role sorted out, it's time to decide where you want to go. Determine if your group wants to go somewhere warm or cold, domestic or international, all-inclusive or a la carte, beach or mountains… You get the idea.
So now you know the climate and activities where everyone would like to go. Terrific. But, there is one major factor that comes into play here: The budget. Find out how much each person wants to spend on Spring Break as a TOTAL. This includes airfare, hotel and all incidentals. People don't realize how much money gets spent on alcohol and activities during Spring Break. You really need to keep this in mind . . .
– Think Outside The Box
[What? A spring break without partying???]
Do not automatically think that you have to go to some party place, like Panama City, just to have a good time. What do you want to do on your Spring Break? Do you want to go to a common Spring Break place? What types of activities are you interested in? Where is a place that you have always wanted to go, but never had the chance?
You would be surprised at how many different options there are for you out there. For example, many people rent out their timeshares at a rate that is a lot less than what a hotel would go for. You can also become an Associate Travel Agent and go on a familiarization trip for a fraction of what the regular cost of the trip is . . .
– Ask For Help
[Most of us aren't travel agents!]
If you aren't experienced with planning travel, it's a good idea to ask someone for help. You would be surprised at how much you can find out on websites like Travelocity and Orbitz. Get suggestions from people that travel. You can even go to a travel agency! I'm sure that there is a Student Travel within your university. (Of course, you can always email yours truly!)
Believe it or not, your parents really might have some good suggestions of where you should go . . .
I think Candice has some solid advice. So . . . parents can be a big help! Amazing!
There's a ton of information on the Web about spring break planning. Just search for . . . (wait for it) . . . “spring break planning"!
Anyway, see you somewhere sunny and warm (or maybe in Dayton, Ohio (no offense to Dayton!)).
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.