For high school seniors, it’s time to start thinking about colleges, applying, and visiting campuses to make that all-important college decision. Everyone knows that time is at a premium and we’re all busier than ever, and traveling to visit far-away campuses can be expensive too. Most research says that students only visit three or four college campuses on average. But research also shows that the campus visit is one of the most important factors in deciding on a college.
I’ll always argue that you need to visit campus if at all possible—it’s very important to knowing if that prospective college is a good fit for you or not. But I would also argue against ruling out a college simply because you can’t visit that campus. I’ve heard students say since they couldn’t visit campus that it’s a sign that the college isn’t for them, but that’s not necessarily true. So what should you do when you can’t visit a campus in person?
Visit the college’s website
When you first visit a website, click through lots of places on the site and just look at the pictures. You’re not going to be able to see the campus for yourself, so check it out online. Hopefully they’ll have lots of pictures of their campus, students, and faculty. You should also try to find a campus map or virtual tour on the website. While it won’t give you the same feel as a campus visit, it can at least help you picture what the grounds look like.
After you’ve explored the website simply for the visuals, go back through the website, this time for content. Read through some of the admission, academic, and financial aid pages. These pages should have a lot of the information you’d find in visit materials or printed pieces from the university, but with a lot more detail. I’d also recommend looking into specific things that interest you as a student. If you’re interested in student organizations, then check out the student development parts of the website and see what’s available to students. If you’re interested in athletics, visit the athletics site and see how the teams did last year. You can actually get lost in a college website because there is so much to explore, but if you can’t visit campus, it’s a great way to get a lot of information.
Related: COVID-19 and Virtual Campus Tours
Search for videos online
Right after exploring the school’s website, I would recommend looking for videos about and from the university. You should be able to find some on their website, but you can also do a general search on YouTube for more. Most colleges have a YouTube channel and post marketing, recap, and other videos. Seeing and hearing from students and events on campus will give you great insight into what’s really happening there. There’s also a chance other students or individuals have posted videos about a college who are unrelated to the school, and that could give you an unbiased opinion about a college to help you with decision-making later on. Prospective students with YouTube channels often document their experiences going on tours and going through the admission process in general. You never know what kind of great advice or insight your peers may provide.
Check out a school’s social media
Who doesn’t have some kind of social media account these days? Facebook and Instagram are the two sources I recommend most, followed by Twitter. Most universities will use Facebook and Instagram for all audiences, meaning there is stuff there for prospective students, current students, and alumni. Twitter tends to be geared more toward current students or alumni, but it’s still worth checking out. Also search to see if the admission department has their own social media accounts along with the university accounts. They often provide further information and a different look at the campus and what’s happening. Again, you can get lost scrolling through pages and pages of posts and pictures, but it’s a great way to see what the campus is like when you can see it in person. If you see something particularly interesting, you can always DM the account with a question, which is my favorite thing about checking out colleges on social media—the interaction you can have with them is so different from a website.
Talk with people who know the college well
Talking with friends or other people you know who have been for a visit or attended that college is a great way to get more information. But the most important thing I can recommend is to be engaged with your admission counselor. These are the people who know the most about the university and the admission process, and if they don’t know the answer, they know who to put you in contact with. Ask them lots of good questions. You won’t bother them, I promise—that’s what they are there for. Most of them have the ability to email, text, or talk on the phone with you, so they can communicate with you in the way that you prefer. And if your admission counselor is really good and you can’t come visit campus, they might offer to give you a tour over FaceTime or Skype (or let you know about a possible fly-in program).
Related: Top Questions to Ask College Admission Counselors
If at all possible, get to campus—nothing can replace being around the people and actually meeting them, seeing the campus, and eating the food in the cafeteria. However, if you just can’t make the trip, don’t rule it out entirely, as there are plenty of things available to you that can help give you an idea of what life on that campus is like.
Find advice for making college visits work when it doesn't seem in the cards for you in our Campus Visits section.