Grace daydreams about college life in Hawaii.

Melisa Holmes, contributing writer 

If you are a parent, then you most likely have had the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” conversation more than once. If you are the parent of a tween or teen, you are now in a position to help shape those dreams into an exploration of exactly how to make them happen.

Over the years, our family has taken the opportunity as we have traveled to introduce our six children, now ages 5 to 17, to various college campuses around the country. In our opinion, it is never too early to start exposing kids to higher education and the first big step they can take on their own to accomplish their dreams.

A single step becomes a leap of faith
That’s when you realize you started flying
So don’t you ever say you’re giving up
No, there’s no looking back… ’cause we were all meant to fly!

Spread your wings across the universe
It’s your time to, it’s your time to shine!
There’s a light inside of all of us
Soon you’ll find that it’s your time to fly…
It’s your time to fly!

Just reach up,
Don’t give up,
Until you’ve touched the sky!
Just reach up
Don’t give up
Until you’ve realized… 

We were all meant to FLY!

– Avril Lavigne

Getting the big picture

While careful research is crucial and many fast facts are available online, nothing can replace actual first-hand impressions of a college. Throughout high school, our oldest daughter, Grace, received a slew of glossy postcards, pamphlets and magazines with beautiful pictures of universities touting what they had to offer.

On the surface, they all looked appealing. Then she began sorting the possibilities in different ways: program availability, cost, financial aid, work options, national rankings, graduating data, campus size, student-teacher ratio, housing options, and location. Yet, there was still one missing piece… experience. Each school appeared impressive in its own way, but it was hard in a two-dimensional view to determine what would personally fit her best. Actual visits to her top three college preferences became imperative to sure decision-making.

When choosing a school, the best advice we could give her as parents was be practical, consider all of the factors, but do not ignore your gut. Sometimes, a final decision comes down to pure emotion — the feeling of the place and the people — and once the list has been narrowed to the top two or three options, you have to ask where you see yourself being happiest for an important chapter of your life.

For Grace, one of Brigham Young University’s three campuses was the smart choice academically and financially, but it wasn’t until her visit to BYU-Hawaii that she knew which one felt absolutely “right.” Our spring break trip to Hawaii centered on the island of Oahu, where after visiting some of Honolulu’s top attractions (see list below for our picks of Oahu’s Best) we focused the bulk of our time on the North Shore in the small town of Laie. It was here that Grace caught the “spirit of Aloha” and knew this is where she belonged.

Grace faces her future.

An Aloha state of mind

“The warmth, welcome and embrace at BYU-Hawaii was like nowhere I’d ever been before. As I walked the grounds, visited with students, faculty and staff in classrooms, offices and local surroundings, it became clear to me that I was meant to go to college here and join the Laie Ohana (family),” Grace said. “The BYU-Hawaii campus and Laie community are really one. Study, student employment and cultural opportunities flow seamlessly together. I had been searching for a university that first and foremost supported my academic interests and personal beliefs, but still encouraged me to explore new ideas, experience diversity, develop my worldview and have humanitarian experiences.”

Ideal time to visit 

Summertime college visits, while easier to plan, can be less informative as most students — along with classes, activities and social events — will be absent. To get a fuller feel for a campus’ atmosphere, diversity, size, services, and support, it is best to visit when the campus is “alive.” Spring break is often ideal timing, as many colleges have a different break than high schools.

Another good reason to visit during the school year is to experience an area’s “true” school-year climate. If you are coming from a different part of the country, you may want to visit during the time period when the weather is likely to be the most different from what you are used to (i.e. If you live in California, visit Idaho or Utah, Oregon, or Washington colleges during the winter months, while you may want to visit Hawaii, Arizona, or Florida colleges in the spring). Though you may love the appearance of a campus in a guidebook, you may not be able to live through the temperatures or other conditions (snow, rain, fog, humidity, etc.) for four or five months out of the year.

Also critical: Make sure to visit serious college considerations before or, ideally, during your teen’s junior year of high school. That’s when the decision-making on both sides is actually happening and, with early application and acceptance dates, waiting until senior year is simply too late!

BYU-Hawaii is comprised of students from more than 70 different countries and is the most internationally diverse campus per capita in the United States.

Stay close

To get the most real college experience, you will want to give yourself enough time to not only tour, but experience the surroundings like a local. After all, the campus is part of a larger community. Does it feel safe? Navigable on foot or will you need to have a bicycle or car? Is there good parking or public transportation options? What about housing? Is on-or-off-campus most feasible? Where is the closest store or is the cafeteria a better option? The best way to help your teen weigh these things out in their mind is to try it all out during your visit.

Spend no less than half a day or, if you’re serious, two full days on campus. Bring a notebook or journal to jot down as much information and as many feelings as possible. Use your phone to record and take pictures. These reflections will be helpful resources after you return home in making a final decision, and for when you are asked, “Why this school?” in your college application or interview.

Take a tour, attend an information session, eat in the dining hall, ride the local bus to a supermarket, maybe even sit in on a class and, most importantly, don’t be shy! Talk to everyone you come in contact with. Actual students, attending actual classes at the university, working actual student jobs will give you the most honest answers to your burning questions. Regardless of the time you have allotted to visit a school, don’t rush! The quality of the visit is more important than the quantity of things you are able to take in.

When we visited BYU-Hawaii with Grace, we deliberately picked a hotel as close as we could get to the campus. The Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore is perfectly positioned between the university and the Polynesian Cultural Center, which primarily employs BYU-Hawaii students. Staying here was incredibly convenient (right off the Kamehameha Highway and just 30 steps away from a pristine white sand beach). We were able to easily pop over to the campus and PCC, yet leisurely come back to our room or the beach for all the benefits of being on vacation. We awoke each day to an oceanfront view, ate hearty and healthy breakfasts in The Bistro, then came back from our explorations each evening to unwind in the Courtyard by Marriott’s own outdoor oasis.

The Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore has perfectly appointed rooms to take in Ka lā hiki ola (the dawning of a new day) in all its glory.

Post-trip preference 

Upon finishing your college visits, re-examine your initial choices. Has the order of your preferences changed? Is the school you thought you loved still “the one?” Has a so-so option on your list now become your favorite? Experience on college campuses not only will help you prioritize your picks, but determine which factors truly matter to you most.


Oahu’s Best:
Our favorite island must see, stay, eat, and do’s!

Best Adventure Hawaiian Parasail

Best Airline Hawaiian Airlines

Best Attractions Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Laie Hawaii Temple, Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach), Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center

Best Beach Winward Side: Castles Beach, Lanikai Beach

North Shore: Laie Beach, Laniloa Beach, Temple Beach

Best Car Rental Alamo Rent A Car (Honolulu Airport location)

Best Eats South Shore: Rainbow Drive-In, Me’s B-B-Que

Winward Side: Boots & Kimos Homestyle Kitchen

North Shore: Hukilau Café, Fiji Market, Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp, Pounders Restaurant

Best Hike South Shore: Diamond Head

North Shore: Laie Falls

Best Hotel South Shore: Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

North Shore: Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore

Best Shaved Ice Winward Side: Island Snow

North Shore: Angel’s Ice Cream, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice

Leeward Side: Waiola Shave Ice (Ward Warehouse location)

Best Luau Polynesian Cultural Center

Best Scenic Drive Kalanianaole Highway

Best Scenic View Laie Point

Best Snorkeling Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Best Souvenirs Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace

Best Sunset South Shore: Waikiki Beach (Waikiki Wall)

North Shore: Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park, Sunset Beach