The College Visit. It’s a rite of passage for many students, and it’s also the best way to really get a feel for the campus and determine if a school is the right fit. It’s also the best way to demonstrate your interest to a college, something that has become much more important in college admissions in recent years. If you’re only looking at schools within a couple of hours’ drive from home, you can and should visit. But what if you are looking at schools on the other side of the country? Unless you have unlimited resources, a campus visit isn’t always practical. So how do you effectively research a college without actually visiting the campus?
- Get on the Internet
The web is a powerful tool for this kind of research. By using the Internet, you can take advantage of campus events, student blogs, virtual tours, course listings, internship listings, online chats, and more. Start with the admissions section on a college website, but go beyond that—check out other pages of interest, like student clubs and organizations, academic departments and faculty. You can even read the online version of the student newspaper and other publications.
- Hit the books
While there are a lot of great college search resources online, don’t overlook guidebooks, which can also be effective tools to help you start your research. In my work counseling students, I often turn to the Fiske Guide to Colleges and The Princeton Review’s The Best 365 Colleges. Both gather information like score ranges, size and location, but, more importantly, they also provide students’ perspective and insights. Try to buy the latest version of the guides to make sure you are working with the most current information. And remember—you may see differences of opinion in college guidebooks. Never rely on one source for accurate information, especially when reviewing the ratings of departments within a college. Instead, compare sources to look for trends in the information you are gathering.
- Let them come to you
Can’t meet with an admissions officer on campus? Don’t worry—it’s a pretty safe bet that you will have the opportunity to see them on your own turf during their recruitment travel season. When I worked in college admissions, I was on the road from early September to just before Thanksgiving meeting with students and parents at high schools, college fairs and college planning events, attending prospective student receptions, and even conducting student interviews. Check the college’s admissions website to find your regional representative; very often they will post their schedule of visits and events, so you can find out when they are coming to you. And it’s a great idea to make sure you’re on their mailing list–that way they can contact you when they’re going to be in your area.
- Reach out to others
Alumni networks and current students in your area are two more resources you can tap into to round out your perspective. Talk with them to get firsthand, anecdotal information about their own experiences.
While there’s no perfect substitute for an in-person campus visit, you can still get a lot of valuable information to help you develop your college list through some in depth research. Happy hunting!