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9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

It’s really hard to believe that Sophia is a Junior in high school already. It was just the other day we were pushing her around in the stroller while she gummed a handful of Goldfish Crackers. Now as a high school Junior, she has to start thinking about college. But where to go? Many parents have to help their kid visualize potential college options by actually going to visit them. We’re starting this now, and wow is it fraught with questions and landmines. Turns out planning college tours for your high school kid is no walk in the park!

This past week, we loaded up a sleek 2019 Chevrolet Traverse (#brandpartner) on loan for our family to test drive, and headed to Arizona. First up on the college tour schedule were Arizona State University in Tempe, and University of Arizona in Tucson.

Chevrolet Traverse with desert background in Tempe Arizona

With the Arizona desert landscape of Tempe in the background, the Chevy Traverse showed up nicely. #brandpartner

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

As we prepped for beginning this process, we learned some things about planning college tours for your high school kid worth sharing. Already we’ve made a couple of mistakes, so let us help you avoid some of our pitfalls and learn from our experiences. I imagine this will be an ongoing series, because we still have a lot to go!

9 Tips For Planning College Tours
  1. Talk with you kid about what they want to study. I know this seems obvious, but when we started planning this process Sophia did not have an answer to this question. Without knowing what she wanted to study, we were flying in the dark on choosing college campuses to visit.
  2. Know your budget in advance. One of our mistakes was planning to visit schools before we had checked on tuition and other costs. Well THAT was a shocker. We live in California, and out-of-state tuition and associated costs like housing, books, etc comes to $44,000/year for ASU and $48,000 for UofA. Not to get into anyone’s personal finances, but that might be a lot for some people to shoulder for 4-5 years. PER KID.
  3. Buy this book: Fiske Guide to Colleges. It lists every college in the US, complete with important stats like tuition costs, GPA/SAT requirements, strong areas of study, acceptance rates, financial aid and more. We’ve been pouring through this book, looking for potential college fits for Sophia using a list of criteria combining her desires and ours. It has been immensely helpful in narrowing down on great options.
    Fiske Guide to Colleges book cover

    This book, Fiske Guide to Colleges, is the bible for kids (and parents!) researching which colleges best suit their needs.

  4. Consider hiring a college coach. This may seem like a luxury for some, but we have found it to be money extremely well spent. You know that thing your teen does, where she looks at you like you are an idiot and know absolutely nothing about anything? Yeah, well they don’t pull that with a neutral third party. The college coach has gotten more information out of Sophia than we have. Plus she’s helping Sophia prepare for writing entrance applications, essays and more.
  5. Plan your college visits to include an actual school day. It may be hard to drag your kid out of school to miss a day for touring, but it will be good to see the campus with actual students and activity. On our recent tours, school was out on vacation and the colleges were deserted. It was a chilly way to see what is normally a bustling campus. Part of the reason for touring is to see the other students, and have your kid determine if they like what they see. Can they be friends with these people? Are these people they could be dorm roommates with?
  6. Make appointments for your college visits far in advance – the dates book up quickly. Most college websites have a built-in scheduling function so you can request your chosen day and time. The tours are very full, and no walk-ups are allowed.
  7. Encourage visits to large and small campuses, colleges and universities, public and private, small town and big city. This will help you kid start to envision themselves in this place, living here for most of the year. Do they like the energy and bright lights of the big city? Or maybe they prefer a quieter, less active country location.
    University of Arizona sweatshirts

    Waiting at the UofA bookstore for our tour of the campus, it was hard not to purchase a signature sweatshirt.

  8. Don’t stress if they hate it. This touring business is as much about helping your kid determine what she doesn’t like as what she does. Just like you, they are not going to like or feel comfortable in every location. Some will naturally drop off the list after touring.
  9. Have your kid keep a notebook for writing down pros and cons of each college you visit. Good advice given to us by our coach was for Sophia to ask herself the same four or five questions after each campus tour.
Tucson mountain landscape

The landscapes in Arizona are breathtaking, like this one in Tucson.

Arizona College Overview

Arizona State University

ASU is located in a sweet little town called Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Located right next to downtown Phoenix, Tempe is a mix of hotels, retail, residences and the Arizona State University campus. Our tour started at the Welcome Center, and was extremely well organized and planned. Starting in an auditorium with a slide show and video, our host guided us through a great amount of information. She was warm and personable, and Sophia felt instantly at ease.

family entering Arizona State University Welcome Center

The ASU Welcome Center was, well, extremely welcoming! Great way to start a campus tour.

After that 30-minute orientation, we were split into groups by major or interest, and off we went to tour the campus. Because it was holiday break, we did not see lecture halls or dorm rooms. However, we did tour the sports center and student union buildings – both were very impressive. Sophia’s eyes were wide open, taking it all in.

University of Arizona

A more informal tour, this one started at the bookstore on the Tucson campus. We were split into random groups and assigned to a guide for our walking tour. Since there was no orientation, the guide became the source of information about all things University of Arizona in Tucson. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, but not overwhelmingly personable. We toured the student union, sports center and even a dorm building.

Old Main building at University of Arizona

The Old Main building at UofA was the original university structure, and now houses administration offices.

Sophia was not feeling this one, and I think maybe seeing a dorm room was the clincher. She will get used to it, but at first glance these rooms are S-M-A-L-L. She did not like the idea of having the shared bathroom down the hall either. We will be encouraging her to shake off the princess attitude, but this first tour was not the time to address that.

After a very brief comparison of pros and cons, Sophia decided that she did not want to pursue either of these colleges in Arizona. We’ll see if that view changes after touring more!

red 2019 Chevrolet Traverse in driveway

This sweet red 2019 Chevy Traverse was our loaner car for our Arizona college tours, and it was the perfect fit for our family. #brandpartner

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Everybody Loves a Lazy River (But Not Always a Waterslide)

Everybody Loves a Lazy River (But Not Always a Waterslide)

Who doesn’t love a lazy river? On a recent trip to Phoenix, we had the pleasure of staying at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, which sports a built-in waterpark available only to hotel guests. With the summer heat of Phoenix topping 11o degrees at times, any chance to dip into cooling waters was inviting to us. The Hilton was even better, complete with lazy river, water slides, waterfalls into gigantic swimming pools, water volleyball, fountains for the little ones, and more.

River Ranch is the water park available to guests on the grounds of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

The lazy river called to our family, beckoning with brightly colored inner tubes, go-cups filled with chilled drinks, and a slow but steady flow of water to keep the crowds moving, cooling and laughing happily. We couldn’t wait to jump in.

Who doesn’t love a lazy river?

One thing we noticed as we floated by the water slides was the lack of crowds there. The lazy river was chock full of guests, merrily bumping into one another, making chains and hopping in and out of their tubes to cool off. The water slide? Not so much. We must have taken three turns around the river route before I saw maybe four adults take on the waterslide the whole time. Quite a few kids threw themselves happily down the curvy pike, but not the parents. Why?

Well, I will tell you why. Because there is no elegant way to pick your bathing suit out of your ass after hurtling down a slide and being thrown into a pool of water. Once I realized it, I witnessed rider after rider splash into the pool, surface for air, and pick at their ass in a most ungainly fashion.

See? See how everyone waits for this poor woman to splash down with her bathing suit floss?

Now there was a time (I think it was the 80s) when butt floss was acceptably in fashion. Perhaps people even convinced themselves it was moderately comfortable to squeeze fabric deep within their cheeks. A very few actually looked good.

But not me. And evidently not many others at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. However, that Lazy River? My ass was quite happy sitting in that comfortable seat, dunked in cooling waters with a icy drink in my hand.

Have fun with that slide, kids!

Guests were happy to splash in the pool and waterfalls at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix

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Hot Food in Phoenix

Hot Food in Phoenix

We had a quick overnight in blazing hot Phoenix on a recent family road trip (click here to read more about our Big Gay Road Trip), and had two meals to die for – dinner at Fat Ox and brunch at The Henry. It’s hard to please the four separate and discerning tastes in our family, and these places happily filled the bill for each of us. They are both in the Scottsdale area, and we highly recommend them to you.

In advance of our trip, I scoped out good restaurant choices on Eater Phoenix. Do you ever consult Eater for restaurant recommendations? It’s my favorite site, because the reviews are created by real foodies who live in that city and possess actual knowledge of what good food tastes like (unlike Yelp, which requires you to trust random people who sometimes know not of what they bitch about).

Man is it hot in Phoenix during the summer – good thing the Kia Sorento had strong AC!

Fat Ox

Fat Ox had a great recommendation from Eater, and I was looking for an Italian place that was upscale, casual and delicious – Fat Ox was all three. Located in Scottsdale, just a quick drive from the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak where we were staying, Fat Ox is a chic restaurant with a full bar and white table clothes. The people inside were dressed smartly and on this Saturday night, ready for a nice evening. Good thing we brought some snappy summer clothes so we could fit in!

And the menu at Fat Ox? It was an incredible collection of deliciousness. We were hungry after that long drive from San Diego, so we sampled:

  • Tableside Caesar with all the regular goodness plus fried capers to add a little punch
  • Veal Meatballs with polenta and San Marzano tomato sauce
  • Cheese and Salumi platter was filled with delicious meats, cheeses, olives, honey and more
  • Steamed Mussels with nduja (a spicy pork salume) and fennel
  • Garganelli Pasta with truffle butter, speck and parmesan
  • Rigatoni Lamb Verde with green tomato, fennel pollen and pecorino
  • And another pasta special I cannot remember but was damn good

The Bailey-Klugh Family rating: 4.5 stars

The Henry

Meeting some much-loved family that lives in Scottsdale the next morning was a treat, and the place they picked for breakfast was a perfect choice. The décor and food at The Henry were both exemplary, and once again we plowed through a series of menu items – in the name of research, of course. Note: they have a bakery window with to-go items that looked out of this world. Next time!

Deliciousness from the take-out bakery at The Henry

Some of our favs from the brunch menu at The Henry included:

  • Sophia: Smashed Avocado Toast (without egg) – Sophia is an aficionado of avo toast, and this one wowed
  • Ava: Caramel Apple French Toast with brown butter cinnamon apple and maple syrup – for some reason Ava picked off the apples, but loved the dish
  • Triton: Spicy Sausage Scramble with chicken sausage, zucchini, corn, spinach, grilled onion and havarti – loved it
  • Jon: Huevos Rancheros with all the regular fixin’s – a perfect combo of crunchy tortillas, eggs over easy, salsa and beans
  • Of course, we had to start off with a couple of The Henry’s famous Brown Butter Salted Caramel Roll, which was served decadently warm, sweet and gooey.

There is also a pretty wicked Bloody Mary Cart that comes to you tableside so you can mix and match all the goodies into your concoction.

The interiors of The Henry are cozy and chic

The Bailey-Klugh Family rating: Again, 4.5 stars

No matter that Phoenix is hotter than the surface of the sun (but it’s a dry heat, they said as we left the cool air-conditioned restaurant for the furnace the locals call “outside”). These two eats (and the great swimming pools) were worth the visit, and I look forward to coming back again soon so we can sample the rest of their menus.