Summer isn’t the ideal time to visit colleges, but it can still be worthwhile.

Carpenter Hall, on the Earlam College Campus

Regular readers of this blog know that I strongly recommend visiting colleges in the fall and spring, when campuses are the most active and filled with students. But some families can only find time from June to August. Here’s how to take advantage of summer college tours.

Before setting up anything, read my post on what to expect on a college visit and this one on how to plan your trip(s). Remember, it’s never too early to spend time on a college campus with a high school student.

Schedule carefully The majority of colleges are back in session in mid- to late August, so if your student starts their senior year closer to September, visit at the end of the summer, when campuses get lively again.

If that doesn’t work, plan your tour during a college’s summer session. This way you can interact with some students and faculty, eat in a dining hall, sit in on a class, etc.

Photo Roller coasterTie college visits to a family vacation When reviewing your teen’s list of prospective colleges, pick a few in the same region and then look for the nearest vacation spot where your family can relax together, too. All college, all the time will stress everyone out.

Use this touring season to refine the college list Visiting now can help your teen knock some schools off that too-long list of prospective colleges. Then in the fall or spring, you can revisit the schools they’re most interested in.

Some kids know exactly the kind of college they’re looking for, but most don’t and until they see their options, can’t make a solid list. Summer college tours are a good time for teens to find out what they like. Visit schools of different sizes and distances from home, check out one public and another private, one in a rural or suburban setting, and another in or near a city.

Take advantage of the extra time available Because fewer students and their families take summer tours, you’ll have more time to talk with the admissions officer leading the information session and the tour guide walking with you.

With a smaller group, use the opportunity to introduce yourself to the other families. Find out where they’re from and what attracted them to this college. You might learn some other facts about the school not covered by the staff.

Since you’re not rushed, make the effort to take a look off-campus where many juniors and seniors choose to live. Your student could end up there in a few years.

Check out the rest of the town, too and discover what kind of shops, restaurants, cafes and entertainment are nearby. Where’s the closest place to buy toothpaste, shampoo and other essentials?

Schedule an interview If you or your student would like to talk directly with an admissions officer, coach or a professor, do it during the summer visit when they’re likely to have more availability. Bring a current transcript and college entrance exam scores, especially when meeting with someone about admissions and scholarships. Not all colleges require interviews, and my kids actually never had one, but interviews allow your student to share what would make them an asset to that college.

Children under 10 need not apply When we visited colleges with our daughter, we usually brought along our son, since he’s only two years behind her. When planning your trip, determine if younger siblings should come along.

Information sessions last anywhere from 30-60 minutes, and campus tours are about an hour (and require a lot of walking). Most middle and high schoolers can handle the few hours on campus, and will definitely learn from the experience. Take along anyone younger and you’re probably asking for some unnecessary aggravation.

Just walk around For underclassmen, especially rising freshmen and sophomores, you may not want to bother with a formal visit. When we were on vacation, we often took a look around a nearby campus. Casual or self-guided tours remove some of the mystery and anxiety about college.

Good luck and enjoy your trip(s).

Please share your advice and experiences about summer college tours in the comments section below.