Summer College Visits: The Quest to Find a School
If you’re lucky enough (and brave enough) to consider a school more than 10 miles from home (You are! You can do it!), you’re going to have to visit it at least once. If you haven’t decided on a school yet, this summer is a great opportunity to explore your options. If you’ve got the time this summer, use it! Wander campuses without a guide, and see as much as you can.
One way of going about this quest is to make a family vacation out of it, like I did. The younger siblings and the parents will probably drive you crazy, but have everyone climb in the minivan (so dorky, I know, I lived it), and hit the road. If you’re curious about a state or city rather than a specific school, this is a great time to visit several schools. Larger, more popular schools tend to be fairly spaced out unless you’re looking at Southern California or the East Coast, but that’s why they call it a road trip. If you thought you might want to make the Rocky Mountain state your home for the next four years, for example, hitting all three major schools (University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado State University in Ft. Collins and University of Northern Colorado in Greeley) is a way to get a taste of the options.
When I took a family road trip the summer after my junior year of high school, we headed down from Denver to Tempe, Arizona, where we took a tour of Arizona State University and also took in the blossoms at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Heading west, we toured the University of Southern California and also made time for a day trip to Disneyland. Later that summer, we headed east and visited Columbia, Missouri to try out the main campus of the University of Missouri.
Yelp and CitySearch can also help you get a good picture of the area, like where to find the best pizza during late-night study sessions or where all the cute guys/girls go. Try it now, when you’ve got an objective audience (Mom will let you know if she genuinely likes the food you’ll be having away from her), and you’re not living off of change from the couch cushions or dining points. (For those who haven’t memorized freshman catalogues, dining points are many schools’ way of making extra money off of hungry students by having them pre-pay for food to be purchased on campus, either in the dining halls or in the fast service restaurants. Free meals are something you may miss, so take advantage!
I really didn’t use the Internet much when I was deciding on schools, but the breadth of information makes it super easy now. My family sticks with food chains whenever possible (Red Lobster by the freeway in Columbia, Missouri, the Chili’s in Tempe, Arizona), but I now think it’s more fun and adventurous to try local cuisine or student hot-spots.
And there’s more to learn than just from the official campus tour! Find non-school activities to do when you’re in town as well. We hit national parks and Disneyland because that’s my family’s thing, but if you’re into hiking, do a hike. Museums and other educational experiences might be too much to ask for a summer-minded student, but that’s a great way to get some culture. Take in a baseball game or go shopping if that’s what you enjoy. You’ll feel more confident heading to school knowing exactly where to find both the necessities and fun.
Also, take pictures and make some notes every evening. I, for one, was not a fan of the summer weather in Tempe. It’s hot and dry and can hit 120 degrees during late July. It’s miserable. However, the other pros outweighed this when I decided to go to school there. Pictures will help jog your memory when it comes to decision time.
Never mind what the brochures and alumni tell you: the only tried and tested way of making the best, most informed decision possible about college is to visit in person. Take in more than the official tour, and try to have some fun with it!