As a graduate of one small college (1,000 students in a town of 10,500) and…
Now that summer is here (for most students), some high school juniors and sophomores are finally finding the time to do a campus visit or several! I say summer is the time to avoid visiting some colleges! Why? Because some of the “perfect” colleges are just too different during summer!
Of course, I don’t really believe that you should not visit your colleges–it’s just that the summertime campus simply does not show an accurate picture of the campus. Here are some reasons why:
- At some smaller colleges, classes are not in session and many faculty take a break from campus;
- Lots of colleges are filled with “summer campers” of all ages and sizes;
- Larger colleges and universities are in session, but not to capacity of the usual student body.
- In summer classes, the atmosphere tends to be more relaxed, even with some classes held outside!
- Many faculty are away on research or vacation, so your chances of talking to them decrease.
- The weather is different, which impacts a lot of our emotional response to any situation.
What’s wrong with a summer visit
So, to be fair, consider the things that might make a significant impression on you when you visit…
Example A: You visit a campus in 95-degree heat and tour an un-air-conditioned dormitory where the air is stale because the building has been closed up since graduation and the heat is stifling. Even if your brain tells you that this is not the norm, your reaction may be so strong that when you compare Campus A to Campus B (where you visited in the winter), your emotions assess the campuses differently, even based on a factor that won’t be “in play” during the academic year!
Example B: You arrange a meeting with the academic department of your dreams, but 85% of the faculty are away. Your “interview” with a staff member who is never in the classroom leaves you unimpressed. It is unfair to you and the college because this department representative simply can’t give you an accurate sense of their teaching style!
Example C: You stop by the cafeteria to sample the food, and the only dining area open is the campus grill. As a vegetarian, you’ll leave hungry and unhappy, even though the main cafeteria might normally serve all your favorites!
How you can make it fair
Get the picture? So, when you visit your colleges in the summer, you need to be really aware that summer sessions show a very different representation of the campus environment than you would likely experience during the other three seasons of the year. While there is no way to change the atmosphere, you can change your visit experience, largely by asking a lot of questions, particularly about how is the (campus, classroom, student union, etc.) different during the school year. Ask your tour guide about the student experience, not just the facilities; ask the department about what kinds of students excel, not just the size of the classes; and ask for the names of current students from your geographic are whom you might call to get their campus experience.
And, of course, visit again in the fall (or spring)! Many colleges offer an “accepted student” day or weekend, and some schools will even provide the transportation, especially if you live in an area they recruit in. I know of at least one campus that will “fly in” accepted students during the academic year! That is how important they consider the campus visit!