Using summer vacation to make campus visits is a good way to combine tasks. But because most schools aren't as busy during the summer, it takes a bit more preparation to make sure you're getting the right impression:

• Create a checklist of things that you want to do on every visit. While it's impossible to compare "apples to apples," it does make sense to see and do as many of the same things on each campus as possible, such as checking out the dining options (including having a meal, if possible), visiting the health and fitness facilities (remember that both are likely to be much busier during the school year) and assessing the surrounding area, including its restaurants, shopping and transportation accessibility.

And make it personal. If you like theater, visit the performance venues. Into music? Ask about concerts both on and off campus.

• Prepare questions that you can ask admissions officers and student tour guides. For instance, as a freshman, how many classes am I likely to have in a large lecture hall with hundreds of other students? And for parents: What security measures are in place to protect students?

• Do your research. Find out if the college offers majors that are of interest to you. Are there any interdisciplinary majors, study-abroad options, internship programs, etc., that make that college more appealing than others?

• Even though it's not likely there will be many students on campus, try to chat with people you come across.

• Grab a copy of the student newspaper. If one isn't produced during the summer, see if you can get a copy of an edition from the spring term or if you can access the paper online. Listen to the college radio station.

• When you return home, write up your thoughts. Ask yourself: "Is this a place where I could feel at home?" List the pros and cons of each school. Having your comments and your lists will make it much easier to trim your college list later in the summer.