By Thomas Broderick
Are you a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior? If so, I bet you’re already looking forward to summer break. Do you have a summer job or internship lined up? Or maybe you’re going to be lounging by the pool or ocean. Either way, summer break is the perfect time for a few college tours with the family. And you know what, it never hurts to start planning for them in advance.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to plan your summer college tours depending on what grade you’re wrapping up this spring.
If You’re a Freshman
If you’re a freshman, you have a simple task: go on a single college tour.
Yep, that’s it. After all, as a freshman, college is still a long way off. At this point, it’s okay to have NO IDEA about where you want to go to college or what you want to study once you get there. So to simplify the process, choose a college within driving distance that you and your family can visit over summer break.
Researching which colleges to tour will also introduce you to many facets of the college experience. Here’s all the information you can learn from just a few minutes reading a college’s website:
- Majors offered
Learning about these (and more) topics for the first time will lead to more questions, but that’s okay. By familiarizing yourself now with the ins and outs of the college experience, you’ll be better prepared as the transition to college approaches.
On Your Tour
So it’s summer, and you and your family have arrived on campus. As an up-and-coming sophomore, all you should be doing is listening/taking mental notes. The other students on the tour will be older and might have very specific questions about the college. Pay attention to their questions and the answers they receive.
Since this is your first college tour, you may quickly realize that this particular college isn’t for you. That’s okay, too! The experience is still extremely valuable, however, as the tour will expose you to much about the college experience that is identical no matter where you eventually end up going.
If You’re a Sophomore
In the sophomore year, you take either the PLAN or PSAT to gauge your readiness for the ACT or SAT. The companies who make these tests sell your information to colleges across the nation. Depending on your scores, you may have received dozens of letters from colleges vying for your attention. With such a large stack of letters, it can be intimidating to sort through them all. Your job between now and summer break is to choose three colleges which you would like to tour.
Now that you’re halfway done with high school, you should have a firm grasp on which subjects you enjoy. While rifling through potential colleges, ask yourself some fundamental questions:
- Which colleges have strong programs that align with my interests?
- Do I want to be close to home or far away?
- What can my family afford?
These questions should help you turn a long list of potential colleges into a manageable few. You are now ready to go on some tours.
On the Tours
This summer, I want you asking questions (lots of them) on your college tours. If you’ve done your research, there is a good chance that one of the schools you visit this summer will be where you go to college. Here are some potential questions to get you started:
- Can I sit in on a summer class?
- What work opportunities exist on campus?
- How does Greek life play a part in campus culture?
Also, while on the tour, imagine yourself spending four years on campus. In many ways, touring a college is like looking for a new home. Choosing a school that matches your personality will go a long way to encouraging your academic success.
If your family cannot afford to visit colleges that are far away, don’t worry. That’s why college websites exist. Also, if you have questions, call the admissions department. They will be happy to answer all of your questions.
If You’re a Junior
If you’re a junior, this is your last high school summer break. Before classes are back in session, you need to finalize your college list. Doing this may require an additional college visit or two. Why not more? Well, the summer break before senior year is one of your final chances to set yourself apart as a future applicant. Here are some examples:
- Taking the ACT or SAT for the second time
- Performing an internship (Or working at a job where you learn a vital skill)
- Completing a volunteer project
There’s already a lot to do this summer, so I don’t want to overload you. One or two final college tours is more than enough.
On the Tours
As an up-and-coming senior, the purpose of your college tours should focus on answering vital questions you have about the school’s academic programs and how they can prepare you for your future. It’s alright if you don’t have a major picked out (remember that plenty of college students change their majors, too) but make sure the college has strong programs in two or more of your primary academic interests.
After a Tour
Before wrapping up, let’s discuss what to do at the end of a college tour. If you received permission to sit in on summer classes, that should be #1 on your list. After that, here are some ideas that will help you better get to know your potential home for the next four years:
- Eat in the cafeteria with your family
- Explore the library and lecture halls
- Read the student newspaper
- Take to some current students
In short, become an active observer.
Even with the internet and email, college tours are still an essential stepping stone between you and receiving a letter of acceptance from your dream school. Also, they are the rare occasion when colleges try to impress potential students (and not the other way around). So this summer, invest a little of your vacation time into planning for the future.
See you on campus!