Prepare for Successful Summer College Tours

Summer can be an ideal time to meet with professors and students at your prospective colleges.

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Visiting colleges during the quieter summer session can give you a chance at more in-depth conversations with students and professors.
Visiting colleges during the quieter summer session can give you a chance at more in-depth conversations with students and professors.

Campus visits are a critical part of choosing the right college. Nothing else cuts through the clutter of data better than getting a firsthand look at the school you are considering attending for several years of your life.

While it's ideal to experience a campus on a bustling day in the middle of the semester, summer college visits are still valuable. Campus life will be slower, but most schools have a summer session, and the slower pace offers unique opportunities.

Doing some initial research will help make the most of your visit. Most importantly, find out when classes will be in session. Colleges keep their academic calendar on their websites and provide start and end dates for each semester.

[Follow these 10 tips to maximize your college tour experience.]

Many universities begin the fall semester as early as August, so it is possible to catch the beginning of the term while high schools are still on summer vacation. During the summer semester, however, there will still be classes in session and research underway.

Don't just show up for a visit and hope for the best. Take time to research which majors are most interesting to you, which professors teach the most intriguing courses and which student groups seem the most appealing. Email the professors and student groups that you are interested in learning more about and let them know when you will be visiting campus.

Some professors may be away during the summer, but those who are around will usually be happy to meet with visitors. You may get only a few minutes to speak with a professor during the regular year, but the summer session can give you a chance at more in-depth conversations.

The best undergraduate experiences often come from finding a faculty mentor who can guide a student outside of formal classes. The first campus visit can be an opportune time to discover schools with faculty who are willing to engage with new students.

[Learn more about the advantages of a summer campus visit.]

Many staff members choose the summer season as the time to take their own vacations, so preparation is crucial in arranging personal interviews with admissions staff. If you are visiting in the middle of the applications process, an on-campus interview can make all the difference. Make sure to bring clothes that would be appropriate for a job interview.

Spend some time during your visit talking to current students. Many schools have student ambassadors and tour guides who are available to meet with visitors. Once again, confirm ahead of time that someone will be available to show you around during your visit.

During the school year, you may be one of several dozen participants in a tour. During summer, however, you may have the tour entirely to yourself. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask a lot of questions about campus life.

[Check out these student suggestions for picking the right college.]

Even better than the official student ambassadors are the students who are on campus attending classes and working student jobs. As you come across them, ask about things that are unlikely to appear in official school literature, such as living in the dorms, social life or class registration. You might even end up making a few friends to ease the transition in the fall.

As with most things in life, preparation is key, and it will go a long way toward making your summer college visits a success. The smaller summer population will mean a somewhat different campus experience than the bustle of fall, but the opportunity to spend more time visiting with professors, staff and students is invaluable.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.