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The College Scoops Podcast

How to Visit a College When Campus Is Empty

April 19, 2019

Summer is approaching and families start planning their family vacations, college visits, or maybe a trip incorporating both. But the question arises, is it a waste of time visiting an empty campus?  Will my son or daughter get a real feel for the campus when school is not in session? As a former Assistant Director of Admissions, Patrick spent his summers on campus and met with students and their families as they explored Johns Hopkins University. Here is his take on college visits during the summer. 

College campuses occupy a huge space in the imagination of prospective students, their parents, and the larger public. They carry significance as places of learning, growth, discovery, and of beauty. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are so many different kinds of college environments out there. Every school from the tiny liberal arts college to the massive land grant university has a distinctive identity, and so much of that personality must be felt to be understood. Enter the college visit–a chance for students to audition different campuses and decide which are right for them.

Ohio State University College Visit

College Scoops mission is to make college trips easy. We help prospective students maximize their short time on campuses from coast to coast because we know that visiting a college is a crucial step in the search and application process. All the online research in the world cannot replace seeing a campus in action. Taking the tours, sampling the food, and witnessing current students going about their day—that is how you decide whether you can truly see yourself thriving at a certain school.

But what if you’re visiting campus when school is not in session? There is a high probability that the times that are most convenient for you to plan your visits—school vacations, summer break, weekends, holidays—are exactly the times when those colleges are at their quietest.

Visiting a campus when class is not in session might require a little extra imagination on your part, but it is still worthwhile. Below are some tips on how to approach your college visit planning when the campus is dead:


  • Check with the Admissions Office
    • You may be surprised by how many formal visit opportunities exist during weekends, holidays, and over the summer break. Colleges anticipate their biggest visitor volume on bank holidays and summer Saturdays, and they staff up accordingly. Schools hire tour guides to work during breaks, and they schedule open houses, specialty programming, and alumni panels to accommodate their visitors, not their residents. Even if the student union is empty, the admissions office might be filled with people who can give you a taste of what it’s like to live and learn at these schools.
  • Take a Self-Guided Tour
    •  If you find yourself on campus when seemingly everything is closed, head to the campus bookstore. They will almost always have a map or self-guided walking tour available that you can use to navigate. Most schools also have commissioned virtual tours that you can pull up on your phone and use to narrate your way around campus.
  • Poke Around
    • College campuses are public spaces that serve so many more people than just the undergraduate population. That means that no one will be alarmed to see a high schooler and her family ducking into the auditorium or the coffee shop or even the biomedical engineering building. As long as you’re respectful, there’s nothing wrong with heading off the beaten track–you never know what you might discover.
  • Visit with Faculty and Staff
    • An unfortunate reality of no longer being a student is you are no longer entitled to winter, spring, or summer break. While college kids are having fun in the sun, their professors and other university staff are usually back on campus working. If you can’t see students in action you can at least get an audience with campus employees. Professors are surprisingly accessible and willing to chat with campus visitors–doubly so for staff members in offices like Student Life and Study Abroad. Consider reaching out to make an appointment or just knocking on their door if you’re passing through.
  • Grab a Bite to Eat
    • Even in the depths of summer, the handful of people left on an otherwise abandoned campus have to eat! If you’re visiting the campus in the off-season, be sure to head over to the dining hall for a meal. Keep in mind that the offerings might be slightly limited outside of peak times.
  • Strike Up a Conversation
    • A college campus is never truly empty. Between summer classes, research projects, campus jobs, and pre-season athletics, there are potential future classmates all around you even during the quietest time of the year. These quiet times are actually a great opportunity to engage people in conversation–they are much more likely to have time to chat or even show you around during the ease of summer vacation than at the peak of mid-semester madness.
  • Follow-Up
    • If you visit campus when the admissions office is closed, be sure to send a follow-up email to your admissions committee representative letting you know that you came by. Creating a dialogue with the admissions office provides you the chance to get specific questions answered and–if the school tracks demonstrated interest–gets you credit for showing up. Also, consider following the school on social media so you can get regular updates on what campus looks like when students are in session or when there is six feet of snow on the ground.

The college search process is ultimately about an emotional connection, and the visceral feeling of “this place is for me” or “absolutely not!” can be felt at any time of the year. Never let the perception that it’s not the “right time” keep you from visiting a school on your list. Campuses are constantly evolving–seasons change, menus are updates, buildings are remodeled–so regardless of when you visit you’re bound to miss something. There is so much to learn from just seeing a college campus once with your own eyes, whenever is convenient for you.

Plus, if you fall in love with the school and are ultimately admitted, you can always come back for Admitted Students Day.

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Patrick Meade, Author

Patrick is a former Assistant Director of Admissions at Johns Hopkins University where he recruited students and read applications from all corners of the globe. At Hopkins, he focused on the messaging and marketing of the undergraduate experience—an extension of his senior thesis “An Exploration of Liberal Arts Colleges,” a study of the distinctly American small residential college experience.Patrick is currently a Membership Engagement Associate for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honors society founded by John Adams in 1780 to “convene leaders from every human endeavor” to examine new ideas and address issues of national importance. He designs and implements panels, lectures, receptions, and other programs that provide members with opportunities to connect to each other and the work of the Academy. Patrick graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2014 with a major in English and a minor in Museums and Society. He is an avid sailor and native of Cape Cod, MA.

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