Summertime College Visits

I get a lot of email from all kinds of people who are eager to inform me about their ideas, products, services, or articles related to college. This is both informative and inspiring for me, since I get to see what’s happening out there in the greater realm of all things college.

One of the more interesting inquiries I’ve received lately landed in my inbox last week. It came from a UCLA undergraduate, Aaron Yih, who has founded an Internet business related to college visits. He wanted to let me know about his enterprise, and since I’m always energized by discussing new ideas with young men and women, especially college students, I began an email conversation with him. I was curious about what inspired his idea and he explained its genesis:

… I started College Visit Co. in June of this year right around finals time. The motivation came as I was sitting in UCLA’s sculpture garden and one of the campus tours came around. I had been looking for an idea to work on that would generate passive income and would provide positive value to people. When I saw that tour guide leading all those prospective students, I realized that I had a unique perspective because I was attending this school. As a result, I knew where students went to eat, what they do in their free-time, etc. 

I made a landing page the next day with a pre-order button for the [UCLA] guide book. I printed flyers, and I went to the same college tours that gave me the inspiration for the idea. I flyered around 200 parents. Out of the 200 parents, about 50 went to the landing page. Out of those 50, 2 pre-ordered the UCLA book. I spent the next couple weeks building the site (complete with e-commerce) and writing the book. …

I love to see fresh initiative among young people. Aaron reminds me of myself when the idea for College Confidential occurred to me back in the spring of 2001. I know what it’s like to start an Internet enterprise, find able partners, nurse it, grow it, and see it through to success. So, I offered to give Aaron’s expertise a test drive here on Admit This!  I asked him to write an article about summer college visits, so we could see things from his insider perspective.

He was more than happy to do that, and dutifully followed my request to avoid including any allusions to his visit-guidebook business. So, here is Aaron’s wisdom about how to trod the college sod in the summer:

When Life Gives You Summer College Visits

Summer college visits are often looked down upon because they do not necessarily display what life will be like during the school year. In the summer, most college students are home, dining halls are not operating at full capacity, and classes aren’t the same structure as during the academic year. But if you cannot make college visits during the academic year, there are definitely ways to make your summer college visits helpful in the decision making process.

The first thing to check is when summer starts and ends at prospective colleges. Sometimes the school’s academic quarters can overlap with your summer, so don’t just assume that since you’re on summer, they’re on summer. Schools on the quarter system tend to start and end summer late. Schools on the semester system tend to start and end summer early. Be aware of move-in weekend because there’s too much chaos for a visitor to learn much about the school or its students. If you still cannot find a time to visit a school when classes are in session, there are still a few things you can do to maximize your summer college visits.

Campus tours are still available during the summer, and you may have fewer people in your tour, which means that you’ll be able to ask more questions and have a more intimate experience. Take advantage of this! Get to know the tour guide. Student guides are interesting and have lives outside of giving tours, so ask what they do on the weekends and where they eat. If those things sound interesting, go check them out. Some colleges don’t have tours every day, so make sure to check with the admissions office before making hard plans. If something doesn’t work, you can always talk to the admissions office. Tell them what you want to do when visiting campus, and they will try their best to accommodate you.

Schedule Interviews and Schmooze Administrators. Okay, I’m joking about the second part, but since summers tend to be less busy for the admissions office and administrators, it can be easier to get the light of day with them. Don’t hog their time, but if you have serious questions, ask away! If the school offers interviews in the summer, do them. Interviews can indicate interest in the school. It’s not required, but if you like a school, why not take the opportunity to meet someone who works there?

Take your time. College visits are not about checking off a list as fast as possible. If you have the time, spend a few days at each school. This will allow you to really get acquainted with the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. It’s better to leave a college feeling like you saw everything you needed to see rather than to feel like you didn’t get an idea of what life is like there.

Eat in the dining halls. Don’t pretend that food isn’t important. Even though the dining halls will be different during the school year, you can still use taste tests as a way to guestimate quality of food that will be served during the year. You can expect that during the year there will be more choices, but in general, the quality of the food will be the same.

Wander. Even though the campus tour takes you around the school, you can bet that they’re being selective about what they’re showing you. Doing an exploratory walk around campus and through buildings will paint a more realistic picture of campus.

Eat in popular restaurants. If there are restaurants that students frequent often, find out and go there. You can tell a lot about people by their dining preferences, and this will force you to venture into town or into neighborhoods popular with students.

Go to popular sights and do popular activities. There’s almost no better way to understand a school than to explore its cultural context. Find out where students go and what they do and then do those things. Not only will it give you an idea of what kind of people go to a school, but it will also open your eyes to the school’s relationship to the outside world.

Even though a lot of students are away from campus during summer quarter, there’s still a lot you can learn from a visit to a prospective college. One of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for a summer college visit is to plan. I don’t mean that you should schedule every minute of everyday, but instead you should become familiar with things that students eat and do at a specific school. From these options, choose experiences that resonate with your interests.

With this methodology in place, you’ll not only have amazing, memorable college visits — even in the summer — but you’ll also prepare yourself to make the best possible college decision.

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Even though summer is well underway, there’s still time to work in a few college visits. With Aaron’s insights, you should be able to gather more than enough information to make at least a preliminary decision about how well you and a particular campus resonate.

My thanks to Aaron Yih and College Visit Co. for and excellent guest post today.

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.