The long summer break from high school offers opportunities for rising seniors (and juniors) to visit college campuses. For some families, summer college visits are a must. This may be the only time available to take a trip where the student can visit multiple colleges. However, it is important to keep in mind that summer college visits have disadvantages. To put it another way, there are limitations that you need to take into account when you evaluate the school.
Here are three important considerations:
- Students–You probably will not get a good feel for what the student population looks like. Most students I work with see this as important for being comfortable with a college. Perhaps more distracting is that many colleges effectively “rent out” the campus for the summer. They will use dorms, dining halls and facilities to host tennis camps, soccer camps, pre-college academic programs and more.
- Atmosphere–The campus and surrounding area may be very quiet all summer. You might find it virtually dead at some schools. Local shops and restaurants that depend on the college for most business may be open limited hours or be completely closed.
- Weather–Let’s assume you aren’t planning to be take many summer term classes. So your visit in July or August can give you a very unrealistic picture of what the weather will be like at college. If you are visiting Syracuse in central NY, you need to picture piles of snow and freezing temperatures for as much as half of the college year. If you are visiting Elon in North Carolina, it may be hot and humid. But you should probably imagine it as more pleasant from September through May.
Regardless of the limitations, I still recommend that rising juniors and their families use summer travel to visit a couple of colleges. Summer college visits offer them a good opportunity to become aware of the differences between small colleges and large universities, urban and rural campuses, colleges close to home and those farther away, etc.
Here are some suggestions for making the most of college tours:
This may be obvious. Bring a notebook and pen/pencil to record your impressions of each school. If taking notes during the actual tour seems awkward, at least be prepared to capture what struck you (good and bad) about the college in the car afterward.
This may not be so obvious. Don’t try to visit more than two campuses in a day. Give yourself time to wander before or after your tour. Also, plan to ask questions of students you see on campus. They are much more likely to be open and honest than admission tour guides. Be sure to check out the area surrounding the campus.
Make sure to learn as much as you can about what it may be like to live and study here for four years. Finally, get contact information for your tour guide and the admissions representative who covers your geographic area.