Summer or holiday breaks are often the easiest time of year for students and families to visit colleges because high schools are on break.

Unfortunately, most colleges are also on break, making it a challenge to get an accurate view of campus life. However, if you take the right steps, you can still maximize summer campus tours and get all the information you need to make your college decision. 

Take Advantage of the Extra Time

One of the biggest challenges of visiting a school during a break can actually turn out to be a big advantage—there’s not much going on. Marguerite Cahill, a school counselor at Ridge High School in New Jersey, recommends making the most of the fact that the students you do see on campus over the break won’t be as pressed for time. She says to ask questions that may be a bit more involved than what you’d ask if class were in session. Ask “why they chose to attend this particular institution, their area of study, what types of organizations or activities they participate in, and any suggestions they may have for further areas to explore either on or off campus,” she suggests.

Contact Faculty Ahead of Time

Like students, professors have more free time during these breaks too, so it’s likely they’ll be more available to talk to you. You just need to make sure that they won’t be on vacation themselves. “I would encourage prospective students to consider contacting professors or academic deans prior to a scheduled visit to determine if they can have the opportunity to engage with faculty who may still be on campus,” says Cahill. Talk to faculty members of any departments that may interest you. Ask them about the courses and work involved in the program. Also, discuss what sort of classes you should focus on your freshman year to make sure you get a good start on that specific program.

Go Where the Students Are

Amber Jin, a former alumni interviewer for University of Pennsylvania, says, “Even during the summer, there are some spots where students tend to congregate.”

Even during the summer, there are some spots where students tend to congregate.

Amber Jin

It’s up to you to find these hot spots, as not all of them will be on an official tour. “Look online for popular restaurants on and near campus,” she suggests. “Check out the libraries. Look online for dorms that are open during the summer.”

Pay Attention to Things That Won’t Change

While the campus might be emptier than usual, there are still plenty of things that stay the same year-round. “The community and surrounding areas, even if less populated without the college crowd, will be the same,” says Chris Reeves, a high school counselor at Beechwood High School in Kentucky. “All the cool stuff, like stores, restaurants, and attractions, will be the same.” If you’re going to live somewhere for four years, you want to make sure you’re interested in the surrounding area too, not just the campus. “In the same vein, the drive or flight [to campus] is the same,” continues Reeves. Ensure that the commute is something you’d be able to do—logistically and financially—a few times a year. 

Take Your Time in Each Location

During breaks, you may feel tempted to visit several different schools over the course of a couple of days. In reality, it’s better to do the exact opposite of this. “I have done tours with other counselors where we visited eight colleges in five days,” says Reeves. “Even though they were very different from each other, it started to run together after a few days.” Instead of jamming in as many schools as you can, take advantage of the extra time a school break offers and spend a couple of days in one place. This gives you the opportunity to really check out the campus and surrounding area thoroughly. Also, if you get sick of a town in only a few days, then you probably want to consider that before committing to living there for four years.

A school-break campus visit requires just a little bit more legwork and imagination than a school-year visit, but it can still prove to be a valuable resource for learning about schools and developing your college list.

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