How to make that summer campus visit more meaningful

Photo by UNC Greensboro

People always seem to apologize when they’re making plans for summer campus visits: “I’m sorry, I know we should have done all this sooner, during spring break, but we couldn’t work it out.”

Campus visits during the summer are fine. I just say that you might need to have a little more imagination. You’ll have to picture those 9-year-olds in lacrosse uniforms as 18- to 22-year-olds cruising to classes, studying in the library and schmoozing in the student union.

If you’re criss-crossing the country and visiting multiple colleges in a short period of time, it can be hard to distinguish one library from another; and trust me, the dorms and dining halls even begin to look alike.

Here are some suggestions to help make the most of your summer visits:

  • Stay organized, and make sure you allow enough time to arrive promptly – that usually includes an allowance for getting lost, parking and then walking to the admissions office.
  • Create your own checklist of things that you want to do on every visit.
  • While it’s impossible to compare “apples-to-apples,” it does make sense to try to see and do as many of the same things on each campus as possible, such as:
    • seeing a real dorm room – not the “Bed Bath and Beyond” staged dorm room that many colleges display
    • checking out the dining options and having a meal
    • visiting the health and fitness facilities
    • stopping off at the career center to understand how they help with summer employment and internships
    • visiting the health center, especially if your student gets sick easily or is likely to consider using the mental health services
    • assessing the immediate surrounding area; its restaurants, shopping, performance venues, transportation accessibility and trying to evaluate safety concerns
    • making it personal – if you’re involved in your youth group then check out the religious facilities; if you’re involved in theatre, then make sure you visit the performance venues, etc.
  • Prepare a list of questions that you can ask admissions officers and student tour guides at every campus you visit, such as:
    • What is the percentage of students who participate in greek life? Do fraternities and sororities dominate the social scene?
    • As a freshman, how many classes am I likely to have in a large lecture hall with hundreds of other students? How does your college or university help make a big school smaller?
    • What security measures are currently in place to protect students?
  • Research the college before arriving on campus. Find out if they offer majors that are likely to be of interest to you. Do they have any special interdisciplinary majors, study abroad options, internship programs, etc., that make that college more appealing than others?
  • Talk to as many people as you can. Even though it’s not likely there will be many students on campus, try and chat with whomever you see (staff, professors, etc.).
  • Find out if there is an open house scheduled for the fall or spring.
  • Grab a copy of the student newspaper and the admissions literature. Listen to the college radio station.

When you return home, write up your thoughts. Ask yourself, “Is this a place where I could feel at home?” List the pros and cons of each school. Having your comments and your lists will make it much easier to trim your college list later in the summer.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions