The search for a college: Where to begin and what to expect from a summer campus visit

June 27, 2013 | Posted in: High School

\During a busy school year, the college application process can fall to the bottom of the priority list. Keeping up good grades, participating in sports and clubs, working, volunteering and doing all the other things that make a good college applicant can also make it hard for students to squeeze in college visits.

Every recent high school grad gives the same advice: start early. Don’t leave it all for senior year. Most students ignore this advice no matter how many times they hear it, and the time gets away from them. College visits are the most difficult part of the college process to fit in to the school year, especially if the schools in question are far away.

A campus visit early on can save students and parents a lot of effort and stress. As good as a college may sound on paper – or online – sometimes a real-world visit can make it clear that it is not the right fit. That’s something that students want to know before they waste their valuable time filling out the extra application or Common App supplement. And it’s something parents want to know before they waste their money on the application fee, which may be up to $80.

Visiting a college during the summer has some negatives, but it also has some major positives. In addition to alleviating some stress during the school year, a summer college visit can allow your family more one-on-one time with the tour guide, admissions department, and faculty members you might want to see, because most of the students are not around.

There are benefits to meeting with the campus staff in person as well. For instance, if you’re hoping to get a little more financial aid, it doesn’t hurt to meet with a financial aid officer. It really is possible to have financial aid reconsidered. It’s not just a myth – something I wish I had known three years ago.

Other important people to meet on a college tour:

  • A member of the faculty in your student’s intended major department
  • An admissions officer
  • Students
  • Career center representative

It may seem like meeting students in the summer would be difficult, because the campus is quieter. However, most mid-size and larger colleges have activities that keep students on campus. The ones you do meet are usually more likely to have time to answer all of your questions.

Your tour guide should be a great resource too. Have your child request one in their major. I found that incredibly helpful. There are also students who stay on campus to do internships or take summer classes, and some of them end up getting on-campus jobs. Visit the library desks or the mail room or even the admissions office; you’re more than likely to find a student worker with some spare time to talk.

Other than the number of students and maybe the weather, everything else at a college is about the same in the summer. It’s a good time to check out the surrounding community. This can be a very important aspect of the college experience. As a student, it is important to enjoy the campus life, but going off campus can sometimes help change up your day-to-day routine. A great way to do this is to explore surrounding neighborhoods, towns or cities, checking out places for dining, theaters, museums, local libraries, and sports venues. (If you have a campus meal plan, don’t get in the habit of eating off campus too often or you will waste that valuable plan!)

It’s a great idea for parents and future college student to prepare a list of questions to ask before your visit. It also saves a lot of time if you go over all the different factors of choosing a college and decide together which ones are most important before visiting. Distance, social environment and housing may matter for some students, but not at all for others. There are so many different elements to consider. Think it through before your visit.

If you visit some colleges during the summer, you may decide to see a few again during the school year before making a final decision. That’s better than rushing through 15 visits during application season or, even worse, right before you put the deposit down.

Shannan Costello is a summer intern for Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is a junior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. Her favorite part of her own college search was envisioning her future life at all of the different schools. Her second favorite part was when it was completely over and she didn’t have to make any more life-changing decisions for a little while. She enjoys reading, painting and doing ballet in her free time.

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