Five Tips to Help You Make the Most of an Empty Campus

With the end of the 2012-2013 school year nearly upon us (or already here for many students across the country!), a lot of you newly-minted high school seniors will use the time away from your rigid school schedules to travel farther afield and visit college campuses.  In my job as an educational consultant, families often ask me what I believe to be the best time of year to see a college campus – and I think it’s no secret that I (and my colleagues) will always respond that it’s the most beneficial to a prospective student to see the campus during a normal school day during the academic year so that he or she can get a realistic look at what everyday life there is like.

The famed McGill Walkway at Swarthmore (and a happy family leaving their campus tour!)  The campus is a nationally recognized arboretum.
The famed McGill Walkway at Swarthmore College (and a happy family leaving their campus tour!) The campus is a nationally recognized arboretum. (Photo taken in July of 2012.)

But what of those campuses that require a plane ride to get to?  One of them could very well be the perfect fit for your college goals but you need to have a dedicated period of time to get away and see them in person – and sometimes the only time that is readily available to you is your summer break from school.

If you fall into this category, then, here are five tips to help you maximize your summertime visit to the college that could potentially be the school of your dreams – even when the campus is empty:

  1. Plan ahead!  Campus office hours sometimes change when the regular semester isn’t in session, so if you want to seize upon all of the opportunities available to you as a summer visitor, planning ahead is key.  Visit the school’s web site prior to scheduling your visit to see what events are scheduled on campus (both through the admissions office, which might offer special open houses in summer, as well as through other departments which may have special events of their own) and which of those events might be applicable to you – as well as interesting!  Then, when you schedule your visit with the admissions office, be sure to inquire as to how you might be able to either participate in one of the admissions programs (it might be as easy as signing up online) or observe the special event that interests you.  Just be sure to make your call two weeks in advance of when you will be in the area – this gives them plenty of warning and allows them to best accommodate your requests.
  2. Ask good questions prior to arrival.  Technically, there is no such thing as a bad question, but when it comes to scheduling your campus visit in the summer months, the best questions to ask have to do with what you will do and see during your time on campus and who will be available to answer your questions.  Does the admissions office employ students as summer tour guides?  If so, this will present a great opportunity for you to see what a typical student is like at that particular institution.  Are any summer classes taught?  If so, by whom?  If faculty members are teaching summer courses, chances are, you might be able to observe one of those classes the same way that you would during the regular school year – or at the very least have a chance to meet with a faculty member in your area of interest to ask questions about the department and the classes.  And don’t forget to ask what other options might be available to you – food in the dining hall (many are open to accommodate camps) or at a another campus eatery, an opportunity to observe students conducting independent research in a lab setting, etc.  You won’t know what’s available to you unless you ask!
  3. Dress for success.  Does the idea sound cheesy?  Maybe a little – but the worst thing you can do on a campus visit (even on the hottest, muggiest day of the year) is show up in your rattiest cut off shorts and a skimpy tank top.  There’s a good chance that everyone you meet with – from admission staff members to faculty to coaches and even student tour guides – will have some say as to whether or not you’re a fit for the institution, so it won’t hurt to look a little better than just “presentable” when you arrive on campus.  Shorts are fine – especially if it’s a hot day – and so are sandals (so long as they’re sensible for walking in and aren’t your most beat up pair).  But shy away from tank tops (or any tops with spaghetti straps) and anything that reveals too much about you.  Introspection in your application essay is fine, but don’t take it too far in your appearance when you visit.

    View from inside the UMass Amherst science center, which sees less activity in summer.
    View from inside the UMass Amherst science center, which sees less activity in summer.
  4. Don’t schedule two visits in one day.  While this is good advice that I give all of my students during the school year, it’s especially pertinent during the summer.  As someone who spent all four years of my undergraduate career and then another near decade working in a college admissions office, I can tell you from personal experience that spontaneity is often the name of the game when it comes to summer campus visits – and those visitors who have a flexible time schedule built into their day are the most able to take advantage of it!  Often, spontaneity takes the form of a professor who previously wasn’t available who suddenly has a break in his or her schedule and will be available to chat with you after lunch or else the coach of your preferred sport happens to stop by the admissions office while you’re there and has time to answer your questions.  As I stated previously – college campus schedules can be rather loose during the summer months, so planning your day loosely around just one campus visit can help you go with the flow and seize every available opportunity.
  5. Explore on your own.  During the school year, I encourage my students to walk around campus and chat with students and staff who aren’t employed by the admissions office to get a “man on the street” perspective about the institution; in summer, this approach can work in places like the library (which is always fully staffed and is the location where a lot of summer students spend time doing research) or fitness center, but if you’re walking around an empty campus and can’t ask those spontaneous questions of passersby, you can do some real introspection and ask yourself if you can picture yourself as a student there.  Since no one is around, you don’t have to deal with any self-consciousness or embarrassment – you can explore unhindered and even sit on the Quadrangle and think for a moment.

For equestrians, I know that the summer horse show season is also underway and that can eat heavily into your available time, but don’t despair!  When you look at your competition calendar for this summer, see what college campuses might be in the area so that if you have a half-day (or full day!) off from competing, you can fill your time with a campus tour.  Also, if you’re planning visits to colleges with equestrian programs, check their calendars for camp schedules, as most of them host summer riding camps during July.  Observing lessons at camp might not be a true depiction of what is taught during the academic year, but most of the camps use the same school horses that the riding teams do, as well as the same instructors.  It’s a good opportunity to get a general feel for the tone of a program and the available opportunities for riders.

So pack your bags, students, and get out there on some summer tours!  (Need help deciding where to start?  Contact me.)

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