Summer vacation is well underway, and for many high school students, senior year is right around the corner. In just a few months, you’ll be incredibly busy with classes, homework, and college applicants. Which means that it’s more important than ever to visit prospective colleges while you still have time.
The fact that fewer students are on campus can sometimes make it harder to get a good feel for a school, but that doesn’t mean the visit isn’t worth it. In fact, if you plan effectively, there are even a few advantages. The summer is an excellent time to explore a wide variety of different colleges, and discover what’s most important to you. And if a school ends up at the top of your list, you can always plan a return trip for the fall.
Take advantage of extra time and flexibility.
Visiting campuses is an important step in the college admissions process. Since you’ll be visiting in the summer, your visits can last longer. You’ll have fewer responsibilities, and will be able to extend trips for an extra day or two. This gives you time not only to see more colleges, but to tour each one in a more in-depth way. You’ll have time to stay overnight, which in turn provides opportunities to meet with professors, and explore the surrounding town (more on that below).
Visit far-away campuses.
In order to figure out which schools will fit you best, it’s important visit as many as you reasonably can – from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges, located in big cities, small towns and everywhere in between. Since you don’t have to worry about missing school, you can explore campuses that are otherwise too far from home; the summer is a great time to drive or fly cross-country – even abroad! Not to mention that, if you’re already planning a vacation, you may be able to visit nearby campuses.
Personalize your tour.
There will be fewer students on campus, but fewer visitors as well. Over the summer, both tour groups and information sessions will be smaller. Take advantage of this, and ask more questions about the specific features that matter to you.
Seek out students who stayed behind.
Even though it’s summer, there will still be students on campus – you just have to try a little harder to find them. Some will be taking classes, while others will be conducting research, interning, or working. And, luckily for you, admissions offices are generally more than happy to put you in contact with students to talk to you about life on campus. In some cases, they can even pair you with students who share your interest in particular majors, sports, or other organizations. All you have to do is ask!
Schedule meetings with professors in your field of interest.
Visit the home pages of departments you are interested in and find one or two faculty members who teach or conduct research there. Email them to ask if they might have a few minutes to chat with you. You’ll be surprised how often they say yes, especially if you’re visiting during the less busy summer months. Meeting directly with faculty is a great way to find useful information about academic programs that are important to you, and to learn about the school from a unique perspective. Find out why faculty chose to teach at this particular college, and ask about the kinds of students who thrive there. In doing so, you’ll gain a deeper and more nuanced view of academic life on campus.
Hit the town.
The summer also gives you time to explore the surrounding town. In addition to checking out restaurants, shopping centers, and other entertainment venues, make sure to do your homework on more practical places like pharmacies, grocery stores, and bookstores. You may also want to take some time to check out potential off-campus housing, especially if a significant percentage of students choose not to live on campus.
Take notes (and pictures, too).
As you continue to visit colleges, you may not remember the specifics of each college. Take notes and pictures throughout your visit in order to keep track of the features you like (as well as those you don’t). Capture the architecture, paying particular attention to buildings where you would spend time, such as the student center, museum, and gym.
The college process is already fraught with enough anxiety, so make this part as enjoyable as possible. Enjoy travelling, and have fun imagining yourself as a student at different colleges – pretty soon, you will be!