The pros and cons of summer campus visits


Families frequently ask me if it is worth it to visit colleges over the summer since they know they won’t be seeing the real thing.

My advice is that any visit is better than no visit at all, and if schedules don’t allow a campus visit during the spring of junior year, or if the fall of senior year feels too late, then hit the road. While summer may not be the ideal time to visit, it is frequently the most practical time for busy families.

College campuses during the summer usually fall into one extreme or another. Many colleges are crowded with kids; they just happen to be members of a much younger demographic.

Colleges are now frequently offering sports camps and enrichment programs to elementary, middle and high school students. So taking a college tour and being surrounded by unruly 5th graders cam be a little disconcerting. On the other hand, some college campuses are eerily empty, and that makes it hard to imagine what it’s like to have acapella groups serenading you as you tour the campus, or to be around when classes break and the hum of college kids is in surround sound.

It’s hard to get a handle on the campus culture or the vibe of the student body when they’re not there. You might need to have a little more imagination 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.

Pros of summer campus visits

Less stress of summer: The pace of summer generally permits families to spend more time at each visit, where they feel they can get to know the college, the campus and the community a little bit better.

Less stress in the fall: The more you can do over the summer, the less anxiety students will feel in the fall. Students can fine-tune their college lists over the summer and be both confident in their list and a step ahead of many students who wait until the fall of their senior year to begin the process.

Greater accessibility: It’s easier to find the time to meet with a professor and/or a coach or adviser of a club or extracurricular activity. Talk to a staff member from the study abroad office or the career center to give you some perspective on the range of opportunities, and most importantly, sit down with some students and ask direct questions such as: “Where else did you apply?” “Why did you choose to come here?” “What’s one thing you would change?”

Parking: Sounds like a ridiculous item to consider, but until you’ve hunted anxiously for a parking space believing you’re about to miss the campus tour, you can’t appreciate the convenience of easier parking.

Cons of summer visits

Not the real thing: Some colleges are ghost towns during the summer with limited hours, closed buildings, etc. You’re not going to get the feel of the activity on the quad and the campus “vibe” during the summer.

Construction: It’s everywhere and can give you a false/negative sense of a campus.

Visiting colleges over the summer, while not usually ideal, is far better than not visiting. Holding off until the fall sounds like a great idea, but it’s often difficult for students – especially seniors – to miss classes and their extracurricular activities. Compressing too many college visits in too short a time span ruins everyone’s experience.

Most importantly, a rushed college visit doesn’t let the student wander around a campus on their own, talk to random students and form their own opinions.

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