When I started looking for colleges to apply to, the biggest piece of advice I got was to visit campus. I was told over and over again that this was the only way to really discover if a college was a good fit for me personally.
After all, every
college sounds great in the brochures that they put out. The only way to really discover the differences between colleges, according to the people around me, was to visit the campus of every college I planned to apply to.
There was only one problem with that plan: I was looking at colleges across the country, and my family definitely could not afford to visit them.
Maybe you've found yourself in a similar position, lacking either the time or the money to visit all of the colleges you're considering. So what can you do? Here are a few ways you can learn about a college and its campus without actually visiting.
1. Take a virtual tour
Many colleges have a virtual tour available on their website that can give you an idea of what the campus looks like, as well as providing information about classes and student life, similar to what you might get on an actual campus tour. Knowing what the campus looks like can help you envision yourself on campus as a student. If you can’t imagine yourself on campus, it might not be the school for you.
You should also look for information about what weather is like at the college so you can factor that into your decision. If you hate snow, for example, you should probably not apply to schools in Alaska.
2. Talk to current students
One great part of a college visit is it allows you see what being at the college is actually like. Talking to a current student can have the same effect. Current students can tell you about their experiences on campus, what students at their college are like, and could even tell you if they think their college would be a good fit for you.
If you don't personally know a student at the college you're interested in, try emailing admissions and see if they can put you in contact with someone.
Try to ask the types of questions that aren't necessarily answered on the college's website or in their brochures, such as: Is the food good? What are the dorms like? What are the best spots and campus?
Questions like these will help you discover the little details that make each college unique and can help you to imagine what it would be like to be a student there.
3. Visit other colleges
Visiting other colleges can help you discover what you are looking in a school. I originally thought I wanted to go to a small school with less than 3,000 students, but after visiting a local school of that size, I found out I really wanted something a little bigger. I never would have known this without visiting, and this information helped me cross a couple of schools off my list without needing to visit all of them.
When planning visits, it's important to visit a variety of schools so that you are well informed about what type of school appeals to you. The two most important factors in determining the type of school that is right for you are size and location. I would recommend visiting a small school (less than 5,000 students), a medium sized school (5,000-15,000 students) and a large school (more than 15,000 students). The size of these campuses will give each a very different environment on campus. Pay attention to which you feel most comfortable at so that you can focus your college sewed on schools that are a similar size.
Another important factor is location, specifically the location of a college in relation to the nearest city or town. There is a big difference between going to school in the middle of a big city like New York or San Francisco and going to school in a small, rural area. Again, I would recommend visiting a variety of schools; try to visit one in the downtown area of the nearest big city, one in the suburbs of said big city, one in a small town, and one in a more isolated, rural area, if possible. This will help you decide location type you are most comfortable with.
One thing to note with urban schools is that there are often two types; some urban schools are very spread out and mixed in with other downtown buildings and activities or there are urban colleges that have distinct, cohesive campuses within the city. These two types of urban campuses are very different, and many students find they prefer one type over another, so I would recommend visiting both types if possible.
It can be hard to make informed decisions about a college without visiting it first, but with these tips, you should be able to narrow down your college prospects to schools you would truly be happy to attend, without even needing to visit a specific campus.