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College Parents' Weekend Guide
Got a kid in college? No doubt you’ve already received your invitation to the gala event of the season: Parents’ Visiting Weekend. When your student goes to school in a major urban area, this trip is extra thrilling. Not only do you get to reunite with your child (while reminiscing endlessly and annoyingly about your own days on campus), you get to do it in a big city! How fun is that?
But before you start packing your embarrassing “Proud University Parent” shirt and signing up for every scheduled activity on the itinerary, consider this: You’ll all have way more fun if the agenda is light and loose. “We only do one or two organized school events,” says Andrea Atkins, whose daughter attends Tufts in Boston. “Parents’ weekend is about being together as a family, so that’s the aim,” she says. Pick something you’ll all enjoy, whether it’s the football game, the a cappella performance, or the student variety show. Then spend the rest of your time on these top priorities.
Shopping. Save the funky boutiques for later in the weekend. Your first order of business is to head to the nearest supermarket for supplies. Marvel at your child’s newfound independence, and how fast she can load a cart with things like Cocoa Puffs, body wash, Teddy Grahams, room freshener, Double Stuf Oreos, and mega-size jars of peanut butter. A trip to the nearest department store may also be necessary. Though he left for freshman year with a suitcase of new clothes, my son suddenly needed jeans and sneakers. And a TV table.
Tip: Troll the farmers’ markets — every city has them. You’ll bond as a family and support local agriculture, while stealthily funneling healthy food into the dorm. Buy your kid some apples, maybe a bushel… you know, for the roommates. (Locate city farmers’ markets at LocalHarvest.org.)
Exploring. Let your child lead the way to his favorite haunts. (Well, the ones he wants you to know about, anyway). Now that the city is his home, there’s no better tour guide. Sit in his favorite park bench. Climb to the top of the hill with the knockout views. Discover that little-known part of the museum he loves. Rummage around the vintage record store with albums from the dark ages.
Tip: If theater’s your thing, stop at the discount ticket booth (or their online site) to see what’s available that evening. You can find them in the following cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto.
Eating. Your kid’s been surviving on cereal, ramen noodles and cafeteria food, so this will be the highlight of her weekend. Expect to spend lots of time chowing down on the local specialties. New York bagels from Zabars uptown or Murray’s in the Village. Deep dish pizza from Chicago’s Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s. In Boston, pasta from Giacomo’s and cannolis from Modern Pastry shop in the North End. When her daughter, Joli, did her first two years at Philadelphia’s Drexel, Linda Ienuso went to both Geno’s and Pat’s to see whose cheese steaks they liked best. Then Joli took her parents to Franklin Fountain for ice cream. “It was packed and we had to wait over an hour, but it gave her such pleasure to share this with us,” remembers Ienuso.
Tip: If your child has some good friends or a significant other, it’s fun to get the families together for a meal, suggests Beth Levine, whose son is a sophomore at Brandeis. Or, if there’s a roommate or acquaintance whose own parents couldn’t make the weekend, invite them to eat with your family (with your child’s prior permission, of course).
Chillin’. Respect your child’s personality and relaxation style. My son was happiest showing us every nook and cranny of campus and beyond, and giving us a blow-by-blow account of his semester so far. My more private daughter shared only the highlights. By the end of the day, she wanted nothing more than to decompress by watching a movie together — whether in a dark theater or from our hotel room bed (snuggled up with a big bag of popcorn). “Make sure you build in down time for kids to loll around the hotel, ” says Levine. “It’s a nice change from their cinderblock dorm.” Some kids will want to hang the whole night with you; others will be eager to get back to their friends on campus. Don’t take it personally if they ditch you—it’s a healthy sign.
Tip: Make the most of the mornings, when your kid is sleeping in. It’s a great time to see the touristy attractions that he doesn’t care about. Consider adding on some days to the trip, so you can continue sightseeing after the weekend’s over and your child’s classes resume.