When at all possible, a college visit is highly recommended. Likely if you are seriously considering a school, you know a lot about it already. The purpose of visiting a college isn't really to learn about the academic programs, you already know that stuff. You are visiting to see and experience the college for yourself. You get to walk through the dorms, see the medical facilities, the campus amenities, and talk to students and professors. A visit gives you subjective information. Do you like the feel of the place? Can you picture yourself there? Are the people nice and helpful?
Yet not all of us can feasibly fly or drive to each of the colleges on our short list. There are many reasons for this. There may be a lack of time – you and your parents must take time away from work and other obligations in order to make a college visit happen. There may be a lack of money. For many students, it's feasible to visit colleges that are within driving distance, but air and hotel costs to get to colleges that are located farther away from you may not be a possibility. So, the question is, how do you get some of that subjective information if you can't physically set foot on campus?
Virtually step foot on campus
Many college websites have become very sophisticated, and provide virtual tours of the campus. This is the next best thing to seeing it for yourself. Beyond a virtual tour, college brochures (online or in print) often have sections that have a lot of pictures and descriptions of the campus that may help you picture what it would be like to be there.
Ask to speak to students
Typically, even if you can't make a visit, there are student ambassadors for the school who can speak to you over the phone or through email. Ask your admissions person if you can speak to someone who is actually attending school there. When you do speak to them, ask them hard questions. Remember, you already know a lot about the academics. You are looking for different information so ask questions related to that. We recommend questions like:
- Do you feel safe on campus?
- When you have some free time, where do you go on campus?
- What is your favorite part of attending here?
- What do you wish the school would to better?
- What's the most annoying part of living in your dorm?
- What restaurants, clubs, grocery stores, etc. are near the campus?
Questions like these will go a long way toward getting you the information you need to help make your decision on whether this particular school is a fit for you.
Attend a college fair
Work with your high school to find out when there are college fairs or college nights in your area, and see if your prospective school is going to make an appearance. While you are not actually visiting the college, you'll be face-to face with someone from the college. It's a way to make contacts, get on mailing lists, and talk to someone about the college culture. Really, college fairs are the next best thing to visiting the school.