Summer College Tours: Who to Meet and What to Do

While many students and families take college visits during the school year, the summer is still a busy time for college admissions offices to coordinate campus visits. With students not bound by a school schedule or single-day campus tours during the school year, the summer offers more flexibility for students and parents to spend a longer time or multiple days on campus.

“The summer really is an ideal time for that exploration,” says Kent Barnds, vice president of admissions, financial aid, and communication and marketing at Augustana College in Illinois. “There’s a little greater flexibility on a college campus then to accommodate visits. Summer is sometimes an ideal time for a student and a family that is at the beginning of the college search and may be a little uncertain about what they want.”

Summer visits often allow students and families to explore campus more freely and find parking more easily, says Kelly Nolin, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Montana.

A less-crowded campus can also be good for students who may feel anxious about the college experience and can be a less-intimidating way for them to acclimate to a campus environment, she adds.

[Related:32 Questions to Ask on a College Visit]

But it also means students won’t get a sense of what the campus feels like when everyone is there, Nolin says. Families should also be aware that some professors may not be available and some offices or buildings may be closed or inaccessible during the summer.

But experts say that with some planning and coordination, families can still schedule effective campus visits. Here are some tips for planning summer college tours.

Be Intentional When Planning a Visit

While it’s less frequent than during the academic year, some colleges hold formal visit days during the summer to ensure people from certain offices are present, such as financial aid, academic advising, counseling, residence life and career services. Augustana does this each summer, Barnds says, and he encourages families to plan their visits on those days if possible.

An alternative would be to coordinate with a person or office your student sees as a priority, such as a coach for a prospective athlete or a professor in their field of interest, and schedule an in-person meeting with them — then plan the rest of the visit around that. Families who show up unannounced hoping to see certain people or buildings may not have much luck, Barnds says.

“It never hurts to ask if that meeting might be available, but I do think that students and families have to temper their expectations about who may be available on any given day,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why one of the formal days might be better visit opportunities, because usually college campuses might be mobilizing more resources.”

Employees on 12-month contracts, such as those in career services, financial aid and residence life, will likely be on campus, Barnds says, but Nolin says it’s still best to plan a meeting ahead of time, preferably at least two weeks in advance. Admissions counselors can often help with this.

“Counselors are a great resource for not just the time on campus but for what families might want to do in the area,” she says. “They can recommend other things to check out. They can also set realistic expectations for who is and who isn’t on campus.”

Who to Meet and What to See on Campus Visits

A crucial part of an effective college visit is getting questions answered and having conversations about important parts of the college experience, such as available courses, extracurricular activities, residence life, joining a Greek organization and what’s available through student support services.

Visiting certain buildings and offices and meeting with specific campus personnel can also help students make informed college decisions. Here’s who and what should be on that list, experts say.

Speak With Tour Guides

Barnds, who is also Augustana’s executive vice president for strategy and innovation, says the most important resource during summer visits is often the student tour guide.

“That experience of going on a campus tour with a current student, having the ability to ask that current student questions, that’s the most important part of that summer visit experience,” he says.

[Related:College Visits: Do’s, Don’ts for Parents]

If possible, students should elect to take a guided rather than self-guided tour so that someone is there to answer questions or provide access to buildings that might otherwise be closed, he says.

Visit Primary Study Buildings and Meet With Faculty

College tours sometimes take students through campus without entering buildings. Whether students are set on a major or still exploring, one of the top priorities should be asking to visit a building where they might spend a lot of their time, Barnds says.

For example, a prospective biology major should ask to see a lab, while a prospective journalism student should ask to see the journalism building or student publications office.

Nolin adds that students should also visit the campus library and university center, and meet with faculty or other academic representatives in their prospective major.

“This might not be a faculty member since many professors are not on campus during the summer,” Nolin says. “However, they may be able to talk with a departmental adviser or recruiter.”

Though some professors are off campus or out of town conducting research during the summer, some may still be local and available to meet in person either in their office or at an off-campus location such as a coffee shop. Others may be open to meeting virtually, Barnds says.

Eat at the Campus Dining Center

Some schools require residential students, especially first-year students, to purchase a meal plan, which can cost between $3,000 and $5,500, or much more in some cases. Because of that, and the number of meals students will likely eat on campus, experts say visiting students should eat at least one meal on campus. Some schools provide at least one complimentary meal as part of the visit.

“Summer is a good time to try out the dining center because it’s a lot less crowded, although choices may be limited,” Nolin says. “It’s most important for students with allergies or food intolerances to try a meal while visiting so they can make sure their nutritional needs will be met.”

[READ: 21 Places Worth Seeing on College Tours.]

If the dining center is closed, Barnds encourages students to ask current students or campus employees to recommend several local restaurants where students often enjoy eating. This allows prospective students to get a taste of what’s available in town and experience the atmosphere off campus.

Tour a Residence Hall

Some schools require first-year students to live on campus, but some students may choose to do so for convenience or other reasons even as upperclassmen. Experts say visiting students should ask to see a residence hall building and a dorm room while on their visit if it’s not part of the tour.

These visits can typically be set up through the school’s residence life office, and some schools have a model dorm room for students to tour while visiting.

Meet With Student Services and Other Support Personnel

Some students may need additional support while in college, whether for academic tutoring, mental health counseling, physical or learning disability accommodations or special health needs and accommodations. Others may want to meet with people in the diversity office, a campus religious ministry or the health center.

Scheduling those meetings over the summer may allow for more meetings and in-depth conversations with the appropriate people, experts say. Knowing where those offices are located, who to contact and what services are available is important to ask about on a summer campus tour, Barnds says.

“Those are sometimes the facilities people don’t see on their campus tours but are the most important facilities once they actually get to a campus,” he says.

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