Visiting colleges over the summer

It’s summer time, and for a lot of people—especially rising seniors—that means college campus visits. Some people take time to visit colleges near them. Some incorporate campus tours into their summer family vacations. Some make campus tours the whole point of the vacation. Some…never tour a campus and do just fine. So let’s talk about visiting campuses in the summer.

There are several major advantages to touring campuses in the summer, as opposed to waiting until fall. You’re not missing school. You get more time and flexibility, which usually means less stress or anxiety. You’re getting the visits done earlier, which gives you more time for reflection and follow-up. You can fold it into a vacation with your family and have fun while you’re at it. All these things are good things, and that’s why summer is such a popular time for campus tours.

The obvious disadvantage to summer visits is that it’s also summer break for a lot of college students. There will still be students, professors, and administrators on campus. But there will probably be a lot fewer of them, so the general feeling or “vibe” of the school may be completely different than what you’d actually experience most of the time as a student. If the campus feeling and vibe are really important factors for you, be aware of that. The colleges are certainly aware of this drawback, and most do their best to show you as much of the college culture as they can.

There are also some less-obvious differences in the summer. One is that, while there may be a lot fewer students and professors on campus, the campus may not actually be empty. Lots of colleges rent out their facilities for other organizations. I remember one summer when I was in grad school and the school was hosting cheerleading camps. The sidewalks were filled every day with 8- to 14-year-old girls, which is not how the campus looks during the school year. I remember going as a teacher to AP Summer Institutes to prepare for the AP classes I taught. I saw hundreds of high school teachers on campus, but very few college students. These different and temporary populations obviously don’t affect things during the school year, but for someone visiting campus it very well might affect their perception of the school and its environment.

Often the school environment is literally different in the summer. I live in Houston, which has mild, pleasant weather from October to April. It’s not a bad place to be a college student. But in the summers, the heat often reaches above 100 degrees. And hurricane season is very real. I would ask anyone to think twice before traveling to Houston in July to get a feel for things—it doesn’t feel very good in July. Most of Texas and the South have a similar problem. Chicago has the opposite problem: visiting in the summer gives you no clue how long and brutal the winter can be. I don’t need to belabor this—you know how weather and seasons work. But do remind yourself during a summer campus visit that you’re getting a feel for a place when it feels different than most the other times you might be on that campus.

Remember that you’ll probably have chances to tour after applications are turned in. Many universities have “accepted student weekends” where they offer tours and programming for people who’ve been accepted. Many even offer to pay for your transportation to get there for the weekend. So if you apply somewhere sight unseen and are accepted, you’ll get more chances to check things out.

The other thing that comes up a lot when talking about campus tours is demonstrated interest. I have three rules for demonstrated interest, and they apply to campus visits.

1. If you really are interested in a school, show it. Even if that school doesn't consider demonstrated interest in their admissions. If you think a school is a good fit for you, then definitely try to visit. But visit because you want to know more, not so you can check off the “campus visit” box for demonstrated interest. And if you’re really interested but don’t have to opportunity to visit, let them know. Show up to their booth at a college fair in your area, ask good questions, and let them know that you hoped to visit but couldn’t make it happen.

2. If you're not really interested in a school, then don't waste their time or yours by trying to rack up demonstrated interest points. This sounds like common sense, but lots of people get so caught up in trying to demonstrate interest for “top ranked” schools that they forget that they’re not actually all that interested in the school beyond its ranking. You don’t have time for this.

3. If you may be interested in a school, but you're not sure how much, then ask more questions and learn more. This is actually the best reason to go on a visit, and what campus tours are designed for. You should visit a campus because you want to learn something, not prove something.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. I’m on my summer schedule, which means I’ll only have posts on Thursday for a while. I’ll be back next week.

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Photo by Zoe Herring.

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