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Planning Your Summer College Visits: A Step-By-Step Guide

Summer will be soon upon us, and with that will come summer programs, family trips, and of course, US college campus tours.

For those with the time and the means, touring colleges is an important step in preparing for college applications. Some colleges consider demonstrated interest as a factor in their admissions equations, so visiting and speaking with students and admissions office staff is a great way to show your commitment to the school. Even for the many schools that don’t use demonstrated interest, a school visit can be the perfect way to gather specific research for those future “Why School?” essays

But even more basic, for students from around the world who are not familiar with the different environments that the many schools in the USA can provide, college visits are a great way to determine that crucial sense of “fit.” Do you like big or small schools? Suburb or city? Crunchy or corporate? When you walk onto campus, how well do you vibe?

No wonder you got in, that school is such a good fit for you

We often hear such exclamations directed towards the seniors in our program. In our era of hyper-competitive college admissions, finding the “right fit” with a school culturally and academically can help your application stand a better chance. After all, each school is committed to a mission and set of values, and they want to admit students they feel somehow are aligned. So here's our guide for getting the most out of your college visits and for finding that elusive “best fit.”

1. Book your flights and rental cars as soon as possible. You will most likely need to travel by a combination of flights, rental cars, and metro in order to reach all the schools you want to visit. Transportation infrastructure in the US is much less developed than in China (there are no high speed trains, for example), and with the influx of summer travelers, rental cars may get booked out. Thus, as soon as you’ve figured out your school list, book those flights and rental cars.

A happy family driving to college.
A family on their way to a college visit.

2. Prioritize your most important schools. As much as possible, try to visit your top choice schools if you have them. From there, you can look at other schools nearby and see if it is convenient to add a second or third visit to challenge or clarify your preferences. You might be surprised that a liberal arts college, a smaller college town, or even a women’s college might seem appealing once you are there in person. But remember, each school visit needs at least half a day, so don’t overpack your schedule.

3. When in doubt, range is key. If you aren’t sure what you like, work with your school counselor or private counselor to pick a variety of school types and cultures to visit. This is the best way to get a sense of your preferences quickly.

4. Check the admissions office calendar and register in advance. Information sessions with admissions officers as well as campus tours with current students may not be available every day. Make sure to check timing and register in advance, especially over the summer when tours can get booked up. A good backup plan if you don’t get a slot is to sign up for a virtual information session in advance, then walk around campus and talk to people on your own.

5. Focus on learning about your interests. Whatever you are passionate about, from athletics to science to the arts, make sure to visit the relevant facilities. Prepare some questions! You can get precious information that will make your application stand out just by being extra curious about the things you care about.

6. Walk around the neighborhood. For many of our families, safety is a top concern. Get a feel for whether you’re comfortable in the neighborhood that the school is located in. Many of the top universities in the US are not located in the best places, so if you have a chance to visit, you can decide where to try the line between safety and other important criteria when selecting schools. 

*** One important note! Smaller schools or those outside of big cities can be more empty over the summer when the majority of students are away for their breaks or internships. This might make the school seem sleepy, but do not be misled! The normal school year will be much more vibrant.

Now, pack your bags and bon voyage! And throughout your travels, don’t forget to leave a little time to slow down and enjoy the summer with friends and family. You’ll appreciate those memories once you have started your journey to college and beyond.

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