Plan College Visits This Summer

The annual break from school is an ideal time to plan trips to college campuses.

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During the school year, adding the college search process onto other schoolwork and activities can be overwhelming. It's easily pushed to the bottom of the to-do list in order to accommodate anything from a big test to a big game. Once summer vacation rolls around, however, most students find themselves with more free time on their hands. This can be a great time to squeeze in a few college visits.

JULIE:

Summer can be a great time to visit colleges, since more family time is usually available. And there are some other advantages—and a few drawbacks—to a summer campus visit:

1. Take advantage of extra time: College visits during the school year are often limited in order to avoid missing lots of classroom time. This usually isn't the case in the summer. If possible, stretch out your visit for an extra day or two, especially for schools that are high on your student's list.

[In Photos: 10 Tips for an Effective College Visit]

2. Plan visits around your summer vacation: When you've finalized your vacation plans, see if there are any schools near your destination—or even on the way— that you can visit. You may want to plan to visit schools that you hadn't given a lot of consideration to before now, since you'll be in the area anyway. And if you're looking for a good vacation destination, you might even want to choose it based on schools that your child wants to check out. That way you'll get a good idea of the whole area, not just of the school.

3. Be prepared for a sleepy campus: College populations dwindle dramatically during the summer months. Don't expect to see streets and sidewalks packed with students, like the pictures in the school brochures. While this can sometimes make it harder to get a good feel for a school, it doesn't mean that the visit isn't worth the trip. And you can always plan a second trip back if the school is at the top of your child's list.

[Explore U.S. News's Best Colleges rankings.]

LINDSEY:

In high school, summer vacation isn't always the welcome release it was as a kid. I spent my summer vacations working, going to 6 a.m. dance practices and even taking the ACT. One of the most important things to fit in during the summer, however, is a college visit or two. Here are some advantages that will make it well worth any sacrificed time by the pool:

1. Your high school information is finalized: If you're visiting schools during the summer before senior year, that means your grades through your junior year—the ones you'll use to apply to college—have been posted. Equipped with your high school GPA and at least one ACT score, admissions representatives will be able to give you a better idea of what kind of scholarship money or awards you can expect.

2. Tours are more personalized: In general, fewer students visit schools during the summer, which means that your group will be much smaller—perhaps just you and your family! Use the personal attention to get all your questions answered, either by your campus tour guide or another admissions representative.

[See 36 questions to ask while on a college visit.]

3. University staff is more accessible: With the lighter load of the summertime, you may be able to meet with a counselor, adviser, or professor who would've been too busy during the school year. Admissions staff members are very accommodating when it comes to arranging meetings with specific groups or academic departments—all you have to do is ask!