Summertime’s freedom from school is cherished by teenagers, so the last thing they may want to consider in summer plans is a college visit. However, for high school students who plan to attend college, campus visits are a crucial part of the college choice process. The summer often holds more opportunity to make those campus visits than other times of the year.

Campus visits can easily be tacked on to vacation plans because they usually only take a few hours out of one day. It is always best to call ahead or register online and sign up for a scheduled tour, even though many schools can accommodate a last minute visit. Always go prepared with questions to ask both administrators and the student who leads the tour.

To enhance the visit, however, go beyond the marketing glitz and the smiling, energetic tour guide. To get a realistic feel for the campus, the high school student should consider spending the night on campus, eating in the dining hall, sitting in on a class, attending a campus event, and talking with students who are not part of the tour. Most colleges allow such overnight visits, so call ahead and ask.

Think about a subject of interest, check out the class schedule, and figure out where and when to attend. After the class, introduce yourself to a student or two; ask what they think of the class you just attended and the professor. Find out what they like best about the school and what they like least. Ask what it is like living on campus, how much time they spend studying, and how much free time they have and what they do with it. How hard it is to get into the classes you want. What do they think is the most important thing to consider about choosing a college and what is the best way to have a good college experience?

Spend some time walking around campus. Do you see many professors? Notice what students do on campus. Check out some dorms other than the one you stayed in for your overnight. Check out the various cafeterias, restaurants, and food courts on campus, and consider how happy you’d be eating there for four years.

After perusing the campus, explore the easily accessed areas just off campus. Notice the types of eating establishments, shops, bookstores, and other businesses that cater to students. Are needed goods and services within easy walking distance? A bank? A grocery store? A movie theater? A barber shop? Find out what type of public transportation is available to other locations in town, and be aware of parking availability and costs.

Even if it is not possible to make an overnight visit to a distant college, high school students should consider doing so at a nearby in-state college. Having an overnight “college visit” to any school will help the discerning high schooler begin to understand exactly what is most important in choosing the right college.

Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit www. launchphase2.com or call 720-340-8111 to learn more about coaching for college bound students, and success coaching for college students. P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit www.towardcollegesuccess.com to read excerpts and to follow her blog.