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Summer Visits Get a Bad Rap!

Posted by Mary Conger on Jun. 22, 2011

With yesterday’s solstice, Summer Campus Visit season is officially upon us! But it seems that summer visits often get a bad rap. Counselors, parents, and kids alike say, “Why bother? Nobody’s there!” 

The implication that campuses go into automatic shutdown the minute graduation ceremonies conclude is misleading at best. Many universities offer full or partial academic sessions, others teem with summer camps, research projects, or athletic training. A school’s summer rhythms are different than those of the traditional academic year, yes, but they still provide a pulse that can be effectively read by visitors. And, let’s face it: Summer is when most busy families have the time and opportunity to make the trek to colleges. 

Some of the benefits of summer visits are simple. Weather is nicer, parking is easier to find, and you don’t have to wait in long lines to buy that hoodie at the bookstore. Visitors themselves are also more laid-back when in “summer mode,” conducting campus visits at a more reasonable, enjoyable pace. Certainly, you can experience relaxed, non-frenetic visits anytime of year (we can help), but there's just something about summer that slows. people. down.

There are substantive advantages to a quieter campus, too.

The biggest upside of summer’s slower pace is arranging (or seizing) opportunities to connect with people. Even though there are fewer folks on campus in total, we’ve found that those who remain tend to be especially welcoming and accessible to visitors. Admissions officers, for example, are far more likely to be available to meet with prospective students in the summer. (During the fall they're off campus recruiting for weeks at a time, and in the spring they’re swamped reading applications). Given that an admissions cycle has usually been put to bed for the year once summer rolls around, admission offices overall are freed up to focus on new prospies.

Many faculty do head for the hills (or the beach) come summer, but there are always professors on campus. Chances are they’re not rushing to teach classes or busy with office hours, and visitors should make an effort to meet them. Many profs will happily arrange time to chat with a prospie interested in their subject. Ideally, you should email beforehand, but don't be shy about respectfully approaching faculty spied in a lab, office, or practice room—some of our most rewarding and helpful interactions with faculty are due to the serendipity summer visits allow.

When doubters fret, “Nobody’s there!” they’re typically referring to students. And yes, the vast majority of students scurry away for the summer, but those who stay are a valuable resource. Some likely take courses (if offered), but it's also common to do research, have an internship, or find other employment on or near campus (such as being a tour guide). Whatever its form, summer studenthood is pretty laid back and so kids, like faculty and staff, have more time to chat with visitors than they might with, say, final exams looming or spring break coming up.

Asking students, “Why are you on campus this summer?” is an excellent way to learn about a college’s offerings and community. Maybe you’ll hear about awesome research opportunities, unique internships, cool co-ops, or perhaps you’ll hear stories of students having to take a required class during the summer because it was over-enrolled during the regular semester. Good or bad, this is all information that will be useful to any prospie. Also, simply asking students (and faculty and staff) to compare and contrast campus in the summer versus the academic year can help “fill in the gaps” that naturally occur on a summer visit.  

There’s one other important constituency on campus in the summer: your fellow visitors. Pay attention to the other prospies and parents in the admissions lobby. They represent the “first cut” of who might possibly be a roommate or lab partner at that college in the future. That scenario is a long shot, sure, but you can tell something about a school by seeing who else is interested in it.

At the end of the day, there's no substitute for a visit during the academic year, especially to schools you’re seriously considering attending after having been accepted. But summer visits are extremely worthwhile for getting the lay of the land, learning about different types of schools, and helping figure out which campuses move from maybe to definitely (yes or no) on their list. Given this reality, colleges and visitors alike should do their best to make the most of them!

Quick Tips

For Visitors....

  1. Check the calendar. Summer schedules can be strange so find out what the earliest and latest tour times are, if admissions is open on Saturdays, and what summer holidays they observe. Also, avoid visiting on graduation and move-out/move-in days if you can. 
  1. Seek out busy campuses. Larger universities tend to have summer sessions, so prioritize them for summer visits and save smaller colleges for the fall/spring if you’re craving a crowd. Also, inquire with admissions to see if a school offers any “preview days” for prospies in the summer.
  1. Dress appropriately. We are big advocates of being comfortable on campus visits, but high temps outside, extreme air-conditioning inside, and traveling in summer vacation mode can combine to leave visitors smelly, chilly, and, well, exposed. Bring layers, wear sunscreen, and don’t show too much skin.   

For Colleges...

  1. Hydrated visitors are happy visitors. Provide access to drinking water and time for its consumption (this might include a bathroom stop on the tour, too!). Also, advise tour guides to keep visitors out of the sun by pausing to provide info while indoors or in shade and then moving the group quickly to the next sheltered location.  
  1. Be good neighbors. Most visitors go to multiple campuses on summer college trips—chances are good they’ll be seeing at least one other school on the same day they’re visiting yours. Have on hand clear “local” directions to nearby campuses (even if they’re your archrivals) and suggestions of places for visitors to eat or stay along the way.
  1. Detour ahead! Summer is prime road construction time. Inform visitors of any closures, detours, or delays that might affect their safe, timely arrival on your campus. Communicate this info on your website, in visit confirmation letters, when visitors call, and via all social media channels.

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