Summer visits to campuses can be either relaxing and enjoyable or a series of blurred visits under pressure to find hotels and meet tour schedules. One key is advance planning. Here are a few hints:
* Before the big trip, visit local colleges first in the spring of a high school student's junior year. This will end up saving time and money on travel. Use that trip to find out what general criteria, school size, academic environment, and social atmosphere is appealing.
* Use the World Wide Web to identify potential colleges to visit. Pay particular attention to schools that are back in session in late August and consider a trip then. Consider this trip an initial foray and plan to return at a later time to schools under serious consideration - when those schools are in session.
* Don't just drive around and look at the buildings. Talk to people. Ask students loads of questions.
* Take photos to prompt your memory of a place. This is important on any trip where you are visiting more than three colleges.
* Call admissions offices in advance to arrange meetings with faculty, students, or an overnight stay in a dorm.
* Try to arrange an admission interview if you're serious about the school. Many colleges no longer offer these on an individual basis in the summer. Many offer information sessions with admissions officers.
* Let young people ask their own questions.
* Don't schedule more than two campuses per day.
* Parents should consider keeping their opinions to themselves until later to avoid swaying students.
* Don't do this trip too early - certainly not in middle school. Going the summer after junior year is common. Note that it may be a mistake for juniors who are still unfocused about college to have a serious interview with an admissions officer.
* Two helpful books are: "The Princeton Review Student Advantage Guide to Visiting College Campuses," by Janet Spencer and Sandra Maleson; and "Campus Visits and College Interviews," by Zola Schneider.