Here’s one of the most important questions you can ask: When to start visiting colleges? 

You may have no earthly idea when you should start. Should you get a jump start freshman year in high school? Is that crazy? Too early? Or should you wait till junior year? Is that too late?

I think junior year is the best time to visit campuses, but I also like to see visits throughout high school, not just trying to cram it all in junior year! I spent 12 years in college admission and I also trained our admission tour guides, so I saw many families zip in and out during the spring.

Let’s walk through the timing of college visits, its importance, the ideal time of year to go on a college visit and a whole host of other things to consider.

Importance of College Visits

You know college visits are important, but what might be trickier is what you’re looking for. In my opinion, you’re looking for two important things: 

  • Campus atmosphere: How does your student feel when he or she is on campus? Comfortable? Stressed? Challenged? While it sounds nebulous, a “feeling” can help guide your child to the right choice for them. The campus atmosphere, understanding campus life, and getting a feel for the friendliness of people counts for a lot in making a final decision.
  • Information about the campus: Aside from “feelings,” you’ll also scope out facts about the campus itself: student-to-faculty ratio, required courses, programs and majors (like considering the pros and cons of being a financial advisor by investing smart or becoming a teacher due to your love of kindergarteners), research opportunities, housing, dining, safety, facilities, costs, location, admission requirements and more.

When should you start visiting colleges? The time of year you visit and the timing of your visit can affect those two things. 

Ideal Year in School to Start Visiting Colleges

Let’s go through the pros and cons of visiting colleges throughout high school. There are pros and cons to visiting colleges throughout each year of high school, and it’s important to recognize the benefits of visiting colleges freshman through senior year! 

Learn more: Once you understand when to start college visits, learn how to set up a college visit.

Freshman and Sophomore Years

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of visiting colleges in the early stages of high school for your student. 

  • Pros: You can help your child get early exposure to college and can start envisioning what the process will look like. 
  • Cons: Your child might change their interests and goals over the next three years, so any interest in the initial colleges and universities might fade away. Your child may also not be mature enough to understand the benefits of visiting colleges at an early age, but that depends on the individual. It’s a good idea to consider whether your child can handle college visits this early in high school.

Junior Year

Junior year is the optimal time to visit colleges if you’re asking, “College visits when to start?” because students have more defined interests and goals. However, there are some pros and cons:

  • Pros: Juniors typically have defined goals and interests at this point in high school and can usually articulate some ideas of what they might want in a college and also what they might enjoy doing for a career. Visiting during junior year also gives them plenty of time to visit colleges, because they can do it over the summer and during senior year as well.
  • Cons: Juniors are usually busy this year in high school, so it might be a challenge to find a time to visit. They might also have a limited perspective on majors at this point (or change their minds often!). Some students may also feel early pressure to make decisions about where they want to attend college, which is unnecessary at this stage.

Senior Year

Senior year offers final opportunities to visit before applying to colleges. You can usually take advantage of specific events for accepted students, which can also help with finalizing decisions if necessary.

  • Pros: The largest benefit of visiting colleges during senior year is that your child is the closest they’ll ever be to knowing their major interests. That makes visits worth the wait, because they’ll be more zoned in and clued into what they want. 
  • Cons: The major downside is that there is so much going on during senior year, between college applications, homework, senior year activities, athletics — the list goes on. Squeezing in college visits may seem next to impossible.

Ideal Time of Year to Visit Colleges

Some families overlook time of year when trying to figure out when is a good time to start visiting colleges. If they have an open day in January, they say, “Let’s go!” But trust me, visiting a college during a snowstorm will color your student’s experience forever. I remember a student from Florida visiting when the temps were in the negative digits on our campus — he never came back. (But then again, it gave him an idea of what it would look like to live on campus during the winter months, so we weren’t hiding anything from him!)

At any rate, it’s still a good idea to look at the weather for a few specific reasons. 

Learn more: Are college tours free?

Spring and Summer Visits

Spring and summer visits invite warmer weather and more flexible schedules, but the downside is that there are fewer students on campus, so you miss out on typical academic year activities, such as more robust classes or events on campus. So, the pros and cons:

  • Pros: Warmer, flexible
  • Cons: Fewer events and students

Fall Visits

There’s nothing better than crunching through the leaves on a crisp, blue-sky day in October — especially on a gorgeous college campus.

College campuses bustle with students in the fall and offer a realistic view of academic and social life. The downside is that it’s a busy application season and it can be tougher to balance school and other commitments when you visit then. Here are the pros and cons in a nutshell:

  • Pros: Lively campus, realistic view of academic and social life
  • Cons: Busy season; might get more personalized experience in the summer

Winter Visits

Things slow down during the winter months on campuses, but you’re also risking the potential for running into bad weather and experiencing limited outdoor activities, such as football games. Do you like to ice skate through your college visit? (Ha!)

  • Pros: Quieter; can see what the campus is really like during a potentially chilly time
  • Cons: Potential for bad weather

Ideal Day of the Week to Visit Colleges

Fridays and Mondays are the most popular days to visit campuses, for good reason — they butt up to the weekend. Fridays are the all-around most popular day to visit campuses because you might tap into a day off of school here and there. When I worked in admission, Fridays in the fall were crazy. The admission counselors and tour guides hopped from one student meeting to the next, hardly able to stop for lunch! 

If you can visit during the middle of the week, you might benefit from more personalized attention on an individual campus visit, more so than you would on a Friday!

Ideal Time of Day to Visit Colleges

What’s the best time of day to visit college campuses? During a lazy afternoon or a busy morning? 

Let’s take a look, but first of all, it’s important to understand that many visits last longer than just an hour or an hour and a half. Many might span the full morning and part of the afternoon, depending on what you choose to do while on campus. If you’re doing a tour, meeting with the admission office and financial aid office and eating lunch on campus, your student’s visit will span the morning and early afternoon. 

However, if you have just a few things planned, let’s look at which is the most beneficial.

Morning Visits

If you arrive bright and early, you have the benefit of attending morning classes and observing the campus energy in the morning. Many colleges and universities tend to slow down in the afternoon as students finish up their classes for the day, so you can see how the campus “wakes up.” 

  • Pros: Launch right into the hustle and bustle; can observe campus energy
  • Cons: Can be a busy time to visit campus

Afternoon Visits

Slower and more leisurely afternoons on some campuses might be exactly what the doctor ordered, particularly if your child is more nervous about the college search. If they need to be eased into the college search process, you may want to take advantage of meeting faculty and students and exploring extracurricular activities in a calmer setting. It seems like afternoons on campus are the juxtaposition of crazy mornings.

  • Pros: Often seem calmer
  • Cons: Things may be wrapping up for the day
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Evening Visits 

One of the most important things to note about evening visits is that colleges don’t schedule visits in the evening. However, you can spend the night on campus, and you can schedule that with an admission office. 

  • Pros: Can experience the dorm life and social activities
  • Cons: Cannot book traditional college visits (unless you arrange to spend the night with someone on campus to check out the residence halls and student life

Learn more: How long are college tours?

Factors Influencing When to Visit Colleges

You’ve probably noticed that there are a few teensy problems with trying to fit college visits in, and that almost always has to do with your already jam-packed schedule — yours and your child’s. 

Let’s take a look at some of the factors standing in your way. 

Academic Schedule

Your child’s school likely gives them a few excused absences for college visits (the standard is usually three days) but they likely can’t just pick up and leave whenever they want. Therefore, it’s important to consider the optimal time to go during the school year. Consider utilizing school holidays for visits, unless, of course, the college has that time off as well. 

Time visits around exams and project deadlines, in-season sports and other types of challenges that might get in your way.

College Calendars

What do colleges and universities have on the docket? Align visits with college open house events and visit when students are on campus for a realistic experience. Visiting when students are on winter break can lead to a lackluster experience, because college campuses look so… dead… during winter breaks. 

Personal Factors

Is your child actually ready to visit campuses? A student questioning his ability to turn in every single assignment on time might not be mentally ready to consider colleges. Or a student worried about what it might look like to live off campus might not be emotionally prepared to consider college yet. 

Again, the family schedule also plays a role. If you’re super busy with work or only have two personal days off during an academic year, you may really have to plan on how to make college visits work. 

How to Plan When to Go for the Ideal College Visit Experience

Whether you’re concerned about organizing your college experience around your activities, the high school calendar or even the weather, you can do a lot to ensure you maximize your experience. Here’s how. 

Step 1: Decide your optimal year.

Will you visit early or late? Spring of junior year or summer before senior year? The best advice is to visit when your child has a clear idea of their interests and potential major. Here’s a great plan, in a few steps: 

  1. Spring semester junior year is the optimal time to visit because students typically have a clearer idea of their interests and future plans. 
  2. Students can use the summer before senior year to do additional visits to narrow down choices before applications. 
  3. Students can do a final visit senior year before application deadlines.
  4. Seniors can also attend admitted student days to make a final decision about which college to attend. 

Is it okay to wait until senior year to visit colleges? 

In short, yes. If your child has no clue about their major or what they’d like to do in the future, opting for fall or the summer before senior year visits may make sense. However, it’s important to consider when applications are due, so this process is likely ideal for schools with rolling admissions only. It might not make sense to attempt waiting till senior year to apply to schools with early applications, like MIT.

Step 2: Decide your visit period.

Decide the best times of year and specific dates when colleges are in session. Try to work around fall and spring breaks because you won’t get a full experience of the college campus when students aren’t there. Also, try to avoid midterms and finals. You may not know when those will occur, but a quick call to the admission office can give you an idea. 

Next, look at your child’s school calendar for potential visit dates. Check into school holidays and weekends. Don’t forget to check the weather!

Finally, look at your family schedule. Where are soccer games and volleyball games interfering with the general schedule? What can you miss? Where can you absolutely not take work off?

Step 3: Decide the time of day that works best.

Naturally, the time of day you plan to visit depends a lot on your travel logistics. If you get to a college late at night, the most logical step is to schedule your visit for the next morning. If you must drive two hours to get there, your best bet might be to arrive at 10 a.m. to give yourself time to drive. 

Whatever the case, add flexibility to your schedule and always consider the possibility that you may visit a campus again!

When is the Best Time to Start Visiting Colleges?

When is the right time to start visiting colleges? It’s a time that aligns with your schedule, your child’s year in school and even aligns to the time of day that works best. It’s important to carefully plan, and try to do it early. 

Need help creating a visit schedule? College Money Tips can help you do that! Email [email protected] for assistance scheduling a comprehensive visit schedule for your student and family. 


Still have FAQs about when to start doing college visits? Let’s tackle ’em.

What age should you start doing college tours?

I love this question because it’s such an important question when considering when to start making college visits. So many families feel in the dark. They don’t want to feel left behind and they also don’t want to start early. You can start doing college tours at any age, but the ideal timeline is to get started during junior year.

Is sophomore year too early to visit colleges?

Absolutely not. If you have a child who is gung-ho about college visits, start them! It’s fun to take advantage of the excitement with younger students, but remember that it’s possible that they might forget the details of individual colleges by the time they’re seniors.

How early is too early to look at colleges?

I remember working with students in junior high on group visits, and I thought that was too early when considering when to start doing college visits. They honestly didn’t grasp the finer details of what college was about, such as having a “minor” and how classes worked. However, if you have a junior high student and a high schooler and they’re interested, by all means, allow them to tag along on your older child’s visits!

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