As a parent of three, our college visits took place during school breaks, holiday weekends, or the first part of the summer break. It was always a challenge to find a convenient time to schedule the trips based on work schedules (both mine and my kids), extracurricular activities, school work, and more. If there is one recommendation I have it is to have your student help you plan the excursion as a way to get them engaged and involved. Who doesn’t like planning where to stop for a scoop of ice cream, juicy burger, or a slice of pizza on the road? College visits take time, energy, and money so you want to make sure you have a meaningful and fun excursion that will enable your son or daughter to get a better feel or vibe of a college or the surrounding town. Melissa Brock worked in college admissions for many years. She shared her thoughts on planning a college visit during the summer with our College Scoops community below.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m not a huge fan of summer college visits.
As a 12-year veteran of college admission, I firmly believe that fall is the best time to visit colleges. If you’ve ever visited colleges during the fall, you know it firmly brings about a heady sense of nostalgia.
Crunchy leaves. Students hugging, excited to see their friends. Football games. Tours led by enthusiastic sophomores donning college apparel.
Autumn brings a sense of fresh renewal on every college campus, and it’s slightly intoxicating.
Though I’d always vote for a fall visit, I’ll grudgingly concede that you can point to a few summer visit perks. I’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks and give you some tips to make your summer visit spectacular.
Benefits of Visiting Colleges During Summer
Let’s take a look at the benefits of visiting colleges during the summer.
Benefit 1: You don’t have to worry about grumpy teachers.
Just trying to get your attention. Did it work?
There’s definite truth to this statement, though, and let me clarify. High school teachers get really grumpy when their students miss classes — even for college visits. Visiting colleges during the summer eliminates your daughter feeling the wrath of Mrs. Smith if she takes just one day off of Calculus II.
Note that your child should know that it’s okay to take time off for college visits, and most schools issue a few excused days off in which to do so. Mrs. Smith should not make your child feel bad for visiting schools.
Unfortunately, it happens.
Benefit 2: You can visit during sports off-seasons.
When your child misses school, who gets even grumpier than algebra teachers? Yep, coaches. In fact, many students cannot visit colleges during the school year at all because they jump from sport to sport.
This means that there’s often no alternative — you have to visit colleges during the summer. In fact, when I was in admission, families of athletes who missed the window to visit colleges during the summer sometimes ended up having to squeeze college visits in on Saturday mornings (my other least favorite time to visit college campuses).
Benefit 3: You can schedule visits at your leisure — or at least during a more relaxing time.
Everyone feels more relaxed during the summer. In my old office, we could drop the business professional attire and opt for business casual. My male coworkers looked forward to May 15 because it meant they could wear polos to work instead of ties.
Furthermore, visiting during the summer might allow for a break in your work schedule and give you more time to travel.
Benefit 4: You can visit colleges during your vacation.
If you have a vacation scheduled in an area where you might want to take a look at colleges, hit ’em up! You’ll save money if you’re already paying for a hotel, flight, and rental car anyway.
It’ll only take you four hours at most to visit a college campus. Don’t consider your vacation ruined if you have to take a break from boogie boarding. It won’t take that long. Promise.
Benefit 5: You’ll likely visit during beautiful weather!
Don’t forget to think about one of the most important factors that contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal of college campuses: the weather. Campuses usually show off best in the balmy air, when colorful flowers hang heavy over the sidewalks.
The aesthetic appeal of visiting during the summer can really make a difference in your child’s decision. (Think about visiting a college in North Dakota in July versus January.)
Your child may feel more inclined to think negatively about a campus visit in the frigid winter months compared to a campus visit alive with blooming flowers and (yes… well, 90-degree weather).
Is it unfair to use college weather as an excuse to take a college off your list? Yes. But it happens.
Sigh. You can’t have it all. (Unless you visit during the fall!)
Benefit 6: You may get more attention.
Fewer students visit during the summer. This means you and your family may get more attention, provided you don’t visit on a group visit day. (We’ll talk about those in a minute.)
The admission team will more likely have more time to answer your questions, the tour guides won’t have to rush to class. The admission director might even have time to sit down with you. At the private liberal arts college where I worked, the college president even made more time to meet with prospective students during the summer!
(Note that even if you don’t have the president’s ear for 30 minutes, no matter where you go, you should get red carpet treatment. No excuses.)
Downsides of Visiting Colleges During Summer
Now, let’s take a look at why you might want to give visits during the summer a wide berth.
Downside 1: You can’t visit with as many people during the summer.
Let’s say your child really wants to major in mathematics. Good luck catching a professor to meet with your child in July!
You’re usually limited to a tour and talking with an admission counselor during the summer unless you tap into a specific visit day scheduled for prospective students.
Downside 2: You may not meet many students.
Naturally, most students take a hiatus during the summer. They go home. Only a handful stick around. You may only meet your tour guide and a few other students milling around the admission office, for example!
At the school I worked for, we only hired three students every summer. Naturally, they were our most gregarious, friendly students, so if a student wanted to meet other (less in-your-face) students, they were out of luck, save for a few football players who stuck around to lift.
Downside 3: You may not see real residence hall rooms.
Our summer residence hall rooms (we called them showrooms) looked like the inside of a Bed, Bath and Beyond ad (because the store donated the materials for our display). It looked sterile and fake. The hallways were silent. Sophomore guys weren’t tackling each other in daily tackle football games, lounge-style. No students blared music. Nobody yelled, “Turn it down!”
The point is, you can’t get a sense of what a real residence hall feels like during the summer.
Downside 4: You can’t sit in on classes.
If your child wanted to sit in on Diversity of Life, an introductory biology class, it won’t happen during the summer. Your child will have to wait until the school year opens in order to listen to lectures. Most colleges have limited seating and capacity for current students during the summer as it is. You can always ask the admission office if it’s an option, but chances are, you’ll find yourself out of luck.
Tips for Visiting During the Summer
When you come to the conclusion that you can only visit during the summer, don’t let the cons hold you back, particularly when you have no other option.
Some families choose to visit schools a lot lower on their priority list during June, July and August. They save the important ones for fall.
Take a look at the following tips for visiting colleges during the summer.
Tip 1: Consider your priorities.
What do you and your child want to get out of a college visit? Does your child want to meet with faculty members? Visit classes? Just get a general tour?
If a school isn’t high on your child’s priority list and you think you might just want to take a tour of campus, a summer visit fits the bill.
However, if you prefer an hour-long conversation with a famed bat biologist on campus, you might want to wait until the school year starts (though you might get lucky, as some professors stick around to do research during the summer).
Tip 2: Go for a personal campus visit if you can.
Personal campus visits always elicit the most enthusiasm from families because you get all the attention. Many times, you can sidestep the group tours and get a tour just for you.
Not a fan? Too much attention? Trust me. Admission counselors know how to work with families who don’t like the spotlight. They’ll make your time with them an absolute blast.
Tip 3: Call the admission office.
Do not — I repeat! — do not sign up for a visit online. Call the admission office to schedule a college visit so you get everything you want.
If you sign up online, you might not get the meetings you want. Having a conversation with a real person ensures you get what you need. For example, let’s say Grandpa Joe will come along on the visit and needs a wheelchair-friendly tour. Now, the admission office will scramble to make the most of it if you show up with Grandpa Joe in tow, but why not give everyone a heads up in advance?
Tip 4: Look into College Scoops.
College Scoops creates guides and maps to help parents and students get a better view of where to eat, explore, and how to enjoy college visits. You can get a sense of what’s happening on and around any campus, and College Scoops publishes the insider scoop with student-generated content!
As College Scoops’ students say, “Sometimes seeing what’s going on just outside the campus can be just as important as what’s happening on campus!”
Same with professor requests, dietary restrictions, and more. The more the college knows about your child and your family, the better your visit will be.
Take Advantage of Summertime!
You can still get what you want during the summer. After writing this, I was surprised to see that I’d listed more advantages than disadvantages to visiting college campuses during the summer.
Huh! Maybe they’re actually more advantageous than I thought.