What's the best time to visit a college campus?

As part our College Q & A guide, we decided to ask your questions to the experts. Here are their answers.

Lora Lewis, Educational Consultant, Lora Lewis Consulting

You should absolutely visit when school is in session so you can experience what a campus is like in action. Without students there, even the most impressive college is really just a bunch of buildings. If possible, try not to visit during the first month of school or other time of peak activity like sports playoffs, when the temporary hustle and excitement can give you a false sense of what regular day to day life is like. If you’re from a warmer geographical area and are considering school in a different clime, consider scheduling your visit for a month when the weather is at it’s worst; that way, you won’t be surprised when those first snow flurries start to fly and it turns out that, in some parts of the country, winter really does mean cold.

Helen H. Choi, Owner, Admissions Mavens

Most people advise students to visit college campuses when classes are in session during the fall or spring. That’s good advice because high school students can then talk to lots of students, drop in on a class or two, and get a good idea of student life (clubs, sports, dining facilities, etc.) However, because juniors and seniors in high school have insanely busy schedules during the fall and spring, many families choose to visit in the summer, spring break, or winter break. If you end up visiting during this time — don’t despair! You can still get a feel for the campus and its surrounding environs, and you will always see a student or professor around the library! And… you never know…if you are lucky enough to be on campus during a college’s “jan term” or “winter intersession” — you might be able to get a sense of what special offerings the college offers during that time.

Katie Parks, Former Admissions Counselor

The best time to visit a college campus is when it’s the busiest. This means going when classes are in session, students are cramming the walkways and there are lots of extracurricular activities going on. You need to get a sense of what campus life is really like, and the best way to do this is to see campus when it’s bristling with student learning and living. Here’s how visiting campus during this time can help you make a college choice: Walking around an empty campus can give you a great look at facilities and allow you a chance to get more individual time with tour guides and campus officials. But it’s hard to tell if you feel like you “fit” at a school when there’s nothing but empty hallways and green space to look at. Most students don’t want to go to college and not do anything while they’re there, and if you take a look at a campus while students are on break, it may give the wrong impression that there is nothing to do at that campus. You don’t want to make a decision about a campus and its student life without actually seeing any students. When school’s in session you can peek in to classrooms and see what the class sizes are like, see examples of teaching styles and get a feel for what it would be like sitting with your fellow classmates in lecture halls. When visiting a school at such a busy time you may get the chance to talk to students who aren’t tour guides or ambassadors and get an unbiased view of what the school is like. Find them in lines at the bookstore, after you’ve asked them directions to the nearest gas station or working the cash register at the school’s coffee shop. If you can, spend some extra time on campus during these visits, like eating in the dining halls, taking in a sporting event or visiting the campus library. Take a look around at all these places and see if you can imagine yourself on the campus doing all the same things for the next four years. See how you feel doing normal college things with other college students and figure out if this is a place that makes you feel at home.

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