Plan Spring Break Early

I know, I know. It’s only the middle of January and most of us here in the USA are in the depths of winter, some much more than others. However, if you’re planning a spring break adventure, whether you’re in college or high school, it’s time to think ahead about what you’ll be doing.

Spring break has become something that requires some serious forethought. It use to be that spring breakers could merely think of a cool place to go (usually some nice, “cool,” warm beach area), make a reservation, and head out. It’s not that simple these days. In past times, issues like personal behavior and with whom you would be traveling were the main (mostly parental) concerns. Here in 2018, you had better be considering personal safety and exposer to potential issues such as terrorism.

That last sentence is both sad and scary. I certainly don’t want to be a doomsday type, but the events of our present-day world demand attention. For example, collegiate spring breakers may want to consider this recent headline:

“U.S. State Dept. warns college students against spring break travel to Mexico”

Unless you reside on a planet other than Earth, you have probably read reports about what’s happening south of our border. Here’s an excerpt from a 2017 article that follows that headline:

“U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican States,” the State department travel warning stated.

The warning, which replaces one issued last April, specifically cautions travelers of the dangers in 14 of Mexico’s 31 states, including the popular spring break destinations of Baja California Sur, Guerrero and Nayarit.

Acapulco has taken over from the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez to become one of the centers of Mexico’s bloody drug war. The city suffers from being a strategically located drug trafficking hub on Guerrero’s Pacific coastal highway, while mass tourism simultaneously provides gangs with a profitable local market for drugs.

It is also unfortunate to be the largest city in Guerrero state, Mexico’s prime location for opium production and one of the most violent regions in the country, notorious for the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 and a seemingly incessant wave of violence and social unrest.

In 2009, the city still attracted as many as 30,000 American spring breakers, but only two years later that number had dropped to barely 500. …

A while back, 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” (a currently timely expletive!). Another poster wrote, “Visiting colleges in MD, VA, and NC here,” which provides a convenient segue into a related topic, beyond safety: visiting colleges on spring break.

Making college visits on spring break is a task mainly for high school juniors and their parents, but it can be invaluable for seniors who have been accepted to colleges vis Early Action or even Early Decision. Those accepted EA are not bound to enroll, so there’s an element of decided choice involved, which can be made easier by sampling the vibes and other aspects of colleges. 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.

Anyway, 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:

Strategies for Parents Making Spring Break College Visits

– Start by Casting a Wide NetIf 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. …

– Finalize Your Target Tour ListOnce 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. …

– Visit While College is in SessionEvery 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. …

– Remember the 2/2/2 RuleTwo 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?”  …

– Ask Questions to Make the Most of Your VisitEncourage 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.  …

– Eat on CampusWhat 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.  …

– Create a Photo DiaryBelieve 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.  …

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As I said at the end of another post on college visits:

” … For those of you who have applied Regular Decision or who have been deferred from ED or EA, your acceptances will be rolling in soon. Then you (and perhaps your family) will have to make one of the most important decisions of your young life: where to go to college.

So, be sure to realize the importance of these visits and also be sure to plan so that you can make the very most of your time and money. You’ll be glad that you did.”

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.