It’s too nice out for a college visit – or at least for the only college visit.  The sky is the brilliant blue that only seems to happen in autumn.  It isn’t too hot or too cold.  Here in New England and in the northern tier of much of the country, the leaves are starting to turn and the grass is still a brilliant green.  Further south the extreme heat and humidity of summer has given way to pleasantly warm and sunny days.  So why isn’t this a great time to visit colleges?

It is a great time to be sightseeing.  And college campuses are lovely this time of year so this might be a good time for an initial visit.  But when it comes time to make the final decision, I recommend another visit.

Critical part of the decision process

College visits are a critical component of choosing the school that is a great fit for a student.  It’s amazing how often the feel conveyed by a school’s website or brochure is completely different than the experience on a campus.  In some cases, it’s like seeing a disappointing movie – you already saw all the best parts in the trailer.  In other instances, the campus is a pleasant surprise and any concerns your student had about whether she would be comfortable at that school for the next 4 or 5 years are relieved.

It’s one thing to see a campus with its beautiful dorms, academic buildings and recreation facilities in beautiful weather with a handful of students and looking just like the website pictures.  It can be something else to see the campus when it is brutally cold and gray or oppressively hot and hazy.  There should be more to the college visit than casual sightseeing.  It’s important to remember that you are evaluating the location as the place where your student will live and hopefully thrive for the next 4 or 5 years.  And it’s important to see the campus in a situation that matches when your student will be living there.  Seeing a campus when classes are not in session is likely very different than experiencing the campus during the school year.

The most miserable time of the year

Many students look at schools that are in different climates than where they grew up.  Really understanding the environment where your student will be living is important.  If you are looking at schools where there will be snow cover for a significant part of the year, be sure to see the area when it is snowy.  And remember, there’s a difference between country snow and city snow.  If there is likely to be snow on the ground from November to April and your student feels trapped in her dorm because she doesn’t like the cold, she isn’t likely to be very happy at that school.  On the other hand, if your student loves the winter weather and activities, she may revel in the opportunities for snow sports – even if she has never played them before.

If the area is known for long rainy winters, see the school in the rain.  Even better, see the school in the rain during the winter.  For some people, the lack of opportunities to be outdoors can be an issue.

In other words, out of the seasons that your student will be in classes, choose the season that your student finds most unpleasant to visit the school.  If your student still finds the campus, the academics, the amenities and the setting agreeable, then she has a better chance of settling in and thriving in her new surroundings.


Environment as a factor

There are so many elements to consider when choosing a school.  Certainly, the academic program is key among those factors.  But other considerations like environment can influence your student’s overall well-being.  One student may find gray skies, gray buildings and gray snow to be very depressing while another student may not even notice the gray.  One person may feel trapped inside during cold, blustery weather while a different person may feel trapped inside during hot and humid weather.  And yet another person may be invigorated by variety in the weather.  This is entirely personal and subjective.  It’s important for the student to determine if she will be comfortable in the school setting.

Why is this so important?

According to a 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 37.2 percent of college students transferred schools at least once during their college career.  Changing schools can result in a loss of credits which will increase the time and cost of eventually obtaining the undergraduate degree.  While there are a number of factors that can influence a student to change schools, getting a true feel for the environment and setting of the school before making a decision could head off some future difficulties.