While visiting every college on a student’s list of schools would be ideal, the truth is most students do not or cannot visit every (or even any) schools before they decide where to apply and attend. Fortunately, college admissions staffs have worked diligently to help expand access to their schools in recent years because of pandemic travel restrictions.
Students for whom traveling is problematic can also benefit from an array of online and in-person options to fill in the details that an in-person visit would provide. While never a complete substitute for smelling the cafeteria and walking the pavement of a quad, the multitude of resources available to today’s applicants can certainly get every student close to the action and able to learn deeply about most schools of interest without ever leaving home.
Here are resources you can use to research a college when you cannot make an in-person visit:
Make Sure They Know about You
Start off by registering yourself with the colleges for email updates, liking or following their social media profiles, and signing up for online events. If you cannot be on campus, you want to be sure they know you exist so they can get relevant information to you.
You can also research for a local representative and email them to introduce yourself and explain your interest in the school but limitations in visiting. They can then recommend other resources to help.
Build Your Networks
Real people who know about the school from actual experiences can be an amazing resource for learning about details you would never learn online, but you must find them. They might be on campus, in your city, or on the other side of the world, but they will quickly give you a great resource for the school.
First, work with a school’s Admissions office to connect you with current students or alumni, who share the same field of study if possible, who are willing to interview about their experiences at the school.
Next consult your own school to see if any of your alumni attended and if you can be connected. Now expand to your family and friends. Do any of them know an alumnus? LinkedIn is a great way to figure this out quickly if they are willing to check.
The more people you ask, the more people who will be involved in helping with your search, and the more likely you are to find a great resource, so keep trying even if you strike out initially.
College fairs have returned to their former levels this year, so keep an eye out for ones in your area. Here you will have the opportunity to get face time with school representatives, introduce yourself, and get specific questions answered (or find a resource at the school who can answer them). Be sure to communicate your name, high school, and areas of interest, and give them your contact information to receive future communications if you are not already signed up.
Many schools will also send reps to visit high schools in person or virtually. Be sure to stay in communication with your counseling staff so you know who is coming to your school. You can also communicate schools of interest to your counselor and ask if they can arrange a visit or meeting, especially if traveling is difficult for the student.
Since having to scramble in 2020 to add virtual tours, many schools have now mastered the art of showing off their campus via video or interactive online presentations, opening up campuses for many new possible applicants as a result. At their best, these will give you access to the highlights the school would show you in person. They also allow admissions teams to produce more in-depth features on specific aspects of the school that traditional tours might not cover.
Be sure to check out a school’s website and YouTube channel for their latest offerings. You can also visit many of the online websites devoted to virtual tours, such as Campus Tours, Campus Reel, YouniversityTV, and You Visit.
Google Maps’ Street View feature will allow you to place yourself into most locations for a 360-degree view of the surroundings. This functionality can be very useful to see what local neighborhoods and cities look like on the ground, whether they are pedestrian-friendly, and what the local landscape is like (trees, hills, open spaces, etc.).
Maps will also show the local restaurants, shopping, hotels, and things to do that might be of interest, so be sure to spend some time exploring each local area to see if you will be satisfied. Along the same lines, local travel guides and tourism sites can offer you a quick summary of what a city or region has to offer beyond the campus.
In addition to the direct connections you might make to a school, millions of first-person reviews from current and former students are also available online through college search websites with reviews such as Niche, StudentReviews, UniGo, and InDuck. While some reviews might be unreliable or planted, you will definitely be able to spot trends when reading through them that should help you to better understand student life there. You can also try to join online groups on Facebook or LinkedIn for schools to hear what are hot topics in their communities and what their people are passionate about.
Schools produce a tremendous amount of social media content, and almost all of it is aimed at enticing and educating prospective students about campus life, school priorities, and student achievements. The student populations at those schools also post even more content, often without the school’s image filter, that can provide you a feel of the campus. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok will give you a multi-media bonanza of life at a school if you have the time to search. Interacting with these posts will also demonstrate interest and raise your profile as an applicant.
Reading the school’s newspaper will quickly give you a pulse of the important topics and issues at a school from the students’ perspective. Perusing the archives can also provide a unique historical insight into how functional a school is and how the current administration compares to its predecessors. The controversial topics are likely ones you would never hear on a tour but will be issues that could affect you as a future student.
Many colleges conduct fly-in programs for students who face financial difficulties or represent historically under-represented communities that will help partially or completely offset the cost of visiting a university. Programs and the expenses covered vary by school and supporter. Some great resources on the available programs include Get Me To College, Cappex, and Coalition For College.
Almost Like Being There
As you can see, while in-person visits are back now, a student does not have to visit a campus to get a good sense of what campus life is like. As mentioned in our guide to in-person visits, as you go through your research steps remotely, you always want to be looking for validation of why you like a school or for reasons to drop a school from your list.
Choosing a college is the first of many big decisions you will make in your life, so you have to rely on your own gut feeling about a school and know when a detail you have discovered is a deal breaker. No one else on your college admissions team has to go to that school and graduate, so make sure you are the one who is going to be happy there, whether you were able to make it to campus in person or not.
Have more questions about researching colleges? Contact us to set up a college counseling consultation. We are meeting with rising juniors and seniors this summer to discuss their plans and needs for next school year. Hourly and package rates are available.