At first glance, college touring in the summer seems like a no-brainer. The kids are out of school; there’s no homework or extracurricular activities to worry about, and you have vacation days saved up. Maybe you can even add a few days at one of your stops, indulging in a mini-family vacation. But, is it an opportune time to see the schools on your list? From my own experience, having toured schools at different times of the year, I’ve found summer to be the least desirable time to visit colleges. Let’s talk about why, and, if you plan on touring in the summer, how to make the most out of it.
Have you ever dined in an empty restaurant or attended a show in a half full theater? Touring schools in the summer often feels that way. Like a restaurant that’s buzzy and lively, a campus in full swing exudes energy and excitement. The quad, student center, and bookstore are humming with activity. I’ve found one of the greatest benefits of visiting a school is what I call the “after tour”—spending time on campus interacting with students, having a meal in a dining hall, sitting in on a class, visiting a dorm—all hard to do if there are no students around. Timing is crucial to get a realistic picture of campus life and the vibe of the school. Often your child will immediately have a gut feeling if a school feels like a good fit.
But what if you only have the summer to tour? By all means, go, as it’s better than not touring at all: just be strategic about it.
7 Tips to Help Navigate Your Summer College Tours
1. Visit early in the summer. Many schools have active summer sessions, though not as busy as during the school year, there will still be plenty of activity. Check the academic calendar on the school’s website: if there are two sessions, go during the first, if possible, the busier one by far. Visiting Brown with my daughter in early summer was a big surprise. There were tons of students on campus from both a robust summer session and high school study programs; it almost felt like campus was in full swing.
2. Visit late in the summer. Here, research pays off: check the academic calendar for when University housing opens and the first day of class. Many schools start their fall semesters in mid-August, often before many high schools begin their year. Students are happy to be back at school, their workload is light, and it’s a good time to engage them in conversation.
3. Students might be scarce, but you’ll have access to at least one student for sure–your tour guide. Linger after the tour and ask questions such as: what they love (and conversely don’t) about their school, why they choose their school, the campus culture, traditions or what life is like off campus. Most tour guides love to talk about their school so ask away.
4. Leave the smaller, more rural schools for a fall visit–we toured Oberlin and Colgate in the mid-summer, and both felt like ghost towns. Did it influence my child’s take on the school? You bet it did. Often the downtown areas near rural schools revolve around campus life; when the students aren’t on campus, the town itself is quiet. In contrast, life doesn’t stop around urban schools, these schools are a better option for touring during the summer months.
5. One big plus of summer touring is that Admissions officers are often more available in the summer months, as they are not knee deep in applications. Also, University staff members are more accessible. Call ahead, and it might be possible to arrange an interview with an admissions counselor, adviser or a professor.
6. The weather is nicer in the summer months at many schools, making it fun to explore the surrounding area after the tour. Just remember if you tour the University of Wisconsin in the summer, for example, it is not the typical weather your child will experience for most of the year. A friend’s son fell in love with Middlebury during a visit in late June. As a Los Angeles native, his first Vermont winter with little sunshine and frigid temperatures was a shock to his system.
7. Summer touring allows you the chance to narrow down your college list, something you need to think about if your child plans on applying Early Decision. Try and visit schools of all shapes and sizes to see where your child feels most comfortable. If they love a school during the summer, you can return for a more in-depth look in the fall.
Regardless of when you decide to tour schools remember: the college process is stressful, but touring schools can and should be fun. Enjoy the time on the road with your child—long after the tours are over, you will both remember the time spent together!