Countdown to College: Planning a Stress-Free Campus Visit

You packed your kids in the car and hit the road for the family summer vacation of a lifetime.


Then to the side of the highway you see a sign that reads: “University of Michigan: This Exit.”

If you’ve got a high school-aged student in the car, chances are you’re going to stop‚ and so will thousands of other families as they weave necessary college visits into otherwise breezy summer vacations.

July is the busiest month for visitors on most college campuses. But the heat, the crowds and the hassle can make an already stressful experience even more fraught with tension. These tips will help you make the most of your trip‚ whether you’re touring among five visitors or 50.

1. Let your fingers do some walking.

Before your visit, surf the university’s Web site to get the scoop on tours, information sessions and other crucial campus information. Some schools require advance online registration for tours, so be sure you know the policy before committing to a travel itinerary.

2. Plan a hump-day holiday.

Because many people try to cram college visits into long weekends, the most hectic days in the admissions office are Mondays and Fridays. You’ll find smaller crowds and receive more personal attention if you arrange a midweek stopover.

3. Opt for a late lunch‚ or an early one.

To handle the influx of summer travelers, many colleges schedule multiple tours per day. Go for a noontime option if it’s available. While other families munch away at the school cafeteria, you’ll enjoy a leisurely stroll with a more attentive tour guide.

4. Explore specific programs.

If you’re already familiar with the general layout of a particular university, see if it hosts program-specific tours. Often schools with several prominent degrees will offer detailed sessions on, for example, engineering or music. Those sessions are often less busy‚ and much more targeted‚ than the general campus tours.

5. Befriend your guide.

With so much at stake when visiting a campus, it’s easy to get a little snippy with your tour guide. Big groups are stressful for them, too, but if you show your guide a little kindness, you’ll get it back from him or her in spades. Many guides will enthusiastically spend one-on-one time with you post tour, answering questions and offering personal anecdotes about life on campus.

For help narrowing down the list of universities you’ll visit, check out The College Board’s College Search tool.