What to Wear to College Visits {for Moms}

It seems like it was just last week when I stepped out of an airplane into a cool New England summer morning and drove with my parents to visit my future college. Within seconds of stepping onto the campus, I passionately declared to my mother, “I have to go to college here!”

I was 17 years old.

Now I’m 43, and I’m the one getting ready to take my son to visit college campuses. Life sure has a way of coming full circle, doesn’t it?

Jen over at Making Our Life Matter is in the same boat, and she asked me to write a post about what to wear as a mom on a college visit.

Fashion Over 40: Summer Outfit Ideas for Moms

Details: top via Stitch Fix // white jeans // ballet flats (the color is Blush) // bag 

My goal will be to look casual and comfortable, but not sloppy. I want to be sure to look more like a mom than a college student. There’s a fine line between looking hip and embarrassing your kid, ya know??

Unless there is a formal interview scheduled, the kids will be wearing jeans and t-shirts or sweatshirts so there’s no need to dress in business attire.

For summertime visits, white jeans with a cute top and flats like I’ve shown above would be perfect. Or a casual skirt or dress could also work. I would just steer clear of shorts.

Fashion Over 40 Spring Outfit Ideas

Details: jean jacket (similar) // navy tank // maxi skirt via Stitch Fix

For fall visits, a lightweight sweater with dark jeans or cargo skinnies and ballet flats would be nice.

College campus visits require a ton of walking, so comfortable shoes are a necessity.


Details: sweater and pants via Stitch Fix // ivory tank // gold espadrilles (similar)

Everything I’ve read says the key is to be comfortable and to check the weather if you’re traveling to a different part of the country. I’d always rather be over dressed than under dressed, so if in doubt, feel free to throw on a blazer with your dark jeans or trousers, but don’t go all gussied up in business attire because you will probably look out of place.


Details: moto jacket (similar) // merlot skinnies (similar) // animal print scarf (similar) // riding boots (similar) // satchel (similar)

Parents who have gone before me, am I on point? Feel free to let me know!

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45 Responses

  1. Hi Jo-Lynne! Thanks for the mention. I think this is a great post. In fact, I just published my post today about that very visit.


    You summed it up perfectly about wanting to look like a Mom, and not a college student. And you gave some great suggestions for more outfits I can put together for next Summer when we cover the Southern colleges. We are headed to the University of Penn on August 12th, so you gave me an idea for a great outfit to wear.

    I was interested to see that most of the kids on the tours were dressed more formally than I thought. They all had khaki shorts on and polo shirts for the most part, even though it was a formal interview.

  2. We visited colleges all last year with my son who is moving into his dorm in two short weeks! Yikes.

    I think your ideas are spot on for what moms should wear to the visits. We did see students and parents in a wide variety of clothing, though. A few times I was shocked at how sloppy and underdressed both parents and students were. IMO that’s not a way to make a good first impression. Tours are almost always run by university students who are trained to guide you around campus. But you never know who you will meet while you’re there. At one university, the President happened to be in the hallway of the administration building and shook everyone’s hand as we walked through!

    In the fall, we had our son wear nice jeans and either a polo shirt or a nice t-shirt with no writing on it. In the spring, he wore khaki shorts and similar shirts. We recently attended his orientation session and he wore nice athletic shorts, a nice plain t-shirt, and new sneakers and he felt a bit underdressed. We were surprised since we expected the students to be dressed down a bit more for orientation but most of the boys had on khaki shorts. Also, girls typically dress up more than boys do, often wearing skirts or dresses. Not sure if this makes a difference or not but all the universities we visited were in the South and we went to both private and public schools.

  3. All great tips and on point! I will say I work for Texas A&M and in the heat of the summer I would say a nice pair of shorts are an option. Our campus is very large and there is a lot of walking involved and in the 100 degree heat dressing in a light summer dress or even shorts with a jacket to layer when indoors would be recommended.

    1. Whoop! Shelly, you just brought back memories of walking from Kleberg to Nagle at the end of a very long day in the summer of ’07. (We should have taken the bus but didn’t know enough to know whether we’d get where we intended.). I thought I was going to DIE. Upside: we weren’t sure where we were going and people stopped and gave us directions (as the Dean has just predicted they would). I have always tried to reciprocate.

  4. I’m in agreement with the A&M worker – in Texas nicer shorts are a necessity!! Our 3rd and final is now a junior at UNT and we’ve done Baylor, UT and shorts were def. the norm for students and parents. Summer dresses with tennis shoes also work well. When we visited Arizona State and it was over 100 degrees I learned the best lesson of all: TAKE A JACKET or sweater!! The hotter it is outside the colder the AC is on the inside. 🙂 And yes always remember you are the parent not the student, dress accordingly.

  5. I think you will find “anything goes” for both parents and students; however, I agree with you that it is better to be overdressed than under. Seldom will you be looked down on for being dressed too nicely!

  6. These looks seem perfect! We actually live in a college town and my husband is finishing up school this semester. But because of that we get a lot of time on campus. You’re totally right about finding that perfect balance and I think you nailed it! Good luck on the tour 🙂

  7. We’ve toured about 7-8 schools so far…most schools seem to do info sessions and tours now rather than interviews. I think only one (Haverford) required an interview. Which kind of stinks, b/c that means your app is strictly a paper one with little chance to show off your personality.

    Love your suggestions for me! Emily does tend to dress up a little more than jeans, as we made her dress up for boarding school tours and that is what her college counseling office advises. And I think it does make a difference, as there have been a couple of times we’ve unexpectedly ended up talking to lax coaches and/or someone in her major department.

    1. I love the bag in the first pic, but I do recommend a smaller bag for tours (I usually go cross body)…most tours are at least an hour and a large bag gets REALLY heavy by the end!

      1. I totally agree about the bag. After lugging my (smallish) purse around for an hour or more on the first tour, I started either carrying a small crossbody purse or just putting my phone and keys in my pockets and leaving my bag in the car. Some schools give you a tote bag with brochures and other info on the tour so you have that to keep up with as well. We also ended up being given cups, pens, notepads, and even t-shirts at various schools!

  8. I have only non-fashion-y advice: if you’re visiting a few colleges, take PICTURES and NOTES as you go — after a while, all of the campuses tend to blend together in your memory. If your student-to-be is considering attending somewhere far outside your experience, try to visit during a more extreme season so s/he will have an accurate expectation. We’re from Texas and our daughter only visited the campus in October so she really wasn’t mentally prepared for her first Illinois winter. With our son, we made sure he toured his first-choice upstate New York school in December as well as in August. It’s also useful to stay in a place within walking distance of campus and let your student spend part of an afternoon wandering around town and campus on his/her own. When son came back to the hotel (later than expected) with a university logo sweatshirt, having found the bookstore and a good coffeeshop by himself, we knew we had a winner. Good luck!

  9. I think you’re on point for sure with mom clothing! We’ve been to several campuses this summer for college visits and I wore summery dresses and felt that my choice was appropriate. My son wore khaki shorts and a polo. A nice tee probably would have been okay, based on what others were wearing, but as that first impression is definitely important!

  10. I got the same shirt as picture number one from stitch fix. I was on the fence about keeping it, but it reminded me of something you would wear, so I kept it. How’s that for confirmation that I chose right?

    My son heads off to college on two weeks. Cannot believe how fast time flies. I feel a little sick to my stomach.

  11. We just returned from a week of visiting colleges in the Midwest and we were hot and sweaty on the tours. I think your white pants and blue top are so pretty, but I would have passed out if I had been wearing that on the tours. I wore a lot of skorts and tops made of material that didn’t show sweat, like you would find in active wear sections. Comfortable shoes are a must. Sometimes we took an hour long campus tour, then an even longer tour within a certain department or we would have to get all the way across campus for a department meeting in just a few minutes. There was a lot of walking out in the hot sunshine. Another tip: Bring a water bottle. Some universities provided us with water bottles and some just made us trudge along behind a tour guide who had their own water bottle while we suffered! Universities that provided water scored higher in my book!

  12. Hi Jo-Lynne! I was gone when this post showed up, but wanted to leave a little comment. I think your fashion advice is absolutely spot on here. You definitely want to look nice, not sloppy, but not like you’re trying too hard, either.

    Some of the posters above gave great advice about actual college visits, but if I could add just one thing more, having gone through this three times. Don’t be “that” parent who asks a million questions during a session–it not only embarrasses your kid, it also dominates the conversation which then alienates the other parents. Asking a question (or two) is fine, but if you still have other questions, save them for after the session or, better yet, email the admissions office later–after you’ve read through all the literature and the school’s website.

    And also? I think you need to make a college visit my way. I know a really nice person who might have extra room for you. Just sayin’. 😉

    1. HOW FUN would that be!? I would love it. David wants to go to a “big” school. I don’t know WHERE he gets that. He is talking about Syracuse. Um. WHA????? I don’t know WHY or what he even knows about it. Paul says it’s rebellion b/c both he and I went to small Christian schools. LOL. But we shall see. I would love to visit Wheaton sometime (and of course YOU!)

  13. Hi Jo-Lynne!

    I’m late to the party too, but I wanted to agree with what Shelly said above. If there’s one piece of advice my college freshman daughter would give to parents touring colleges, it’s this: don’t stand out! Dress appropriately (your outfits are perfect), don’t ask too may questions…just try not to call attention to yourself, LOL. Also, in no particular order:

    1. I agree that you will see the whole range of clothing on both kids and parents.
    2. Moms, don’t carry a Longchamp tote, unless you want to blend in…with every college girl you see.
    3. We got the advice that it is a good idea to tour safety and match schools first if possible. You want your child to fall in love with these schools, and it may be hard for Big State University to measure up the the standard set on the tour of (Expensive) Elite College.
    4. We found that it was really difficult to tour more than one college in a day, even those that were close geographically. As someone said above, it is hard to keep all the information straight from college to college.
    5. See if you can get a voucher to eat in the dining hall. That way you can sample the food and do some people watching.

    Good luck with the tours! It’s an exciting time for the whole family!

  14. Thanks. For the info. I went to Gordon too! We are starting this process with our son and as a bit older mom, this was very helpful!

  15. Jo-Lynne
    Thank you for that post. Our oldest is leaving in a few weeks an she and I are scheduled for orientation this weekend.
    I was wondering “what to wear?” So I am so happy to have found your post. Although I had some ideas of what I wanted to wear, you gave me a few also.

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