An important part of deciding which college to attend is finding good fit. And without doubt, the very best way to investigate fit is to actually get on campus and see first-hand what a school is all about—academically, culturally, and socially.
This fact isn’t lost on colleges, which go to great lengths to get prospective students and their families to campus. But at the same time, colleges also recognize these trips aren’t always feasible.
Getting to campus can be enormously expensive and time-consuming, and no one expects you to visit all the colleges on your list, especially those that aren’t within a “reasonable” distance of home.
If you find you can’t visit all the colleges you are seriously considering, try a few of these “next best” alternatives for making campus connections:
1. Get on the mailing list. Colleges maintain mailing lists for purposes of communicating directly with students. Take advantage of the opportunity to receive information and learn more about colleges you are considering by “intentionally” getting on mailing lists. But be aware that once you agree to receive these communications electronically, you need to open your email. Colleges have software that allows them to see if you dump their messages directly into trash. Yes, colleges can be annoying to the point of spamming prospective applicants. But in the era of “big data,” you need to know that colleges have the capability of tracking your response to what they are selling.
2. Subscribe to college blogs. Many colleges are opening lines of communication through blogs. Bloggers can be admissions staff or students who have agreed to write regular columns on their experiences. Both can be enormously helpful in understanding the college, its community, and the process for submitting a successful application.
3. Attend college fairs. Colleges and universities typically send admissions staff or alumni representatives to fairs all over the country. There are regional fairs or fairs centered on a theme or an alliance of colleges. Although they can be hectic, college fairs are great opportunities to make connections and pick up some glossy brochures.
4. Sign-up for school-based presentations. In the fall, colleges send admissions representatives to meet with high school students on their turf. These events are generally organized through student services or the college/career office. Be sure to keep up with the schedule of visits and sign-up for presentations that interest you.
5. Try the virtual method. Colleges are increasingly participating in websites designed to support “virtual” visits to their campuses. The most popular of these sites include CampusTours.com, ecampustours.com, and YOUniversityTV.com. You can even attend a virtual college fair at CollegeWeekLive.com or view a college lecture via podcast through iTunes U. YouTube offers some professionally produced marketing pieces as well as a huge sample of student videos. And finally, check out live on-campus webcams, which some more enterprising colleges use to give viewers a sense of “being there.”
6. “Like” a college. Many colleges have built their own Facebook “fan” pages, which they use as tools to display videos, pictures, and news articles about their schools. With creative use of Facebook, colleges keep in touch with potential applicants as well as provide them with important information and invitations to events. Keep in mind, however, that the wise Facebook user makes good use of privacy controls to keep private information private.
7. Tweet. For the most part, colleges don’t expect their Twitter accounts to necessarily result in active exchanges with high school students. They’re happy to establish these forums to pass along newsworthy items or basic information. By following a few colleges, you can use Twitter as a tool for gathering data or keeping abreast of deadlines.
8. Work the local network. Touch base with friends coming home for Thanksgiving, relatives, and neighbors—see what they know. Many have visited the campuses in which you are most interested and have useful information and impressions. Or ask admissions offices for the names of local alums who may be willing to spend some time with you.
9. Check out campus media. There’s hardly a college in the country that doesn’t have a student-run newspaper. Most also have campus radio and/or television stations. You can find most newspapers online, and with a little creative searching you can stream a live radio or TV broadcast.
10. Sign up for an online class. One of the side benefits of the massive open online course (MOOC) movement is the ability to take college-level classes without leaving the comfort of your living room. If some of the colleges on your list are offering online classes through Coursera, Udacity, or edX, you can get a feel for some of what goes on in classrooms on campus by signing up and actually taking or auditing a course—you might even learn something useful!
11. Attend a reception. A local or regional college reception is less of a social event and more of an off-campus information session. Don’t go for the food, but consider it another opportunity to meet admissions staff, ask questions, and pick up more marketing material. You’ll also get a good peek at the competition—students from other high schools in your area who are likely to apply to the college sponsoring the event.
12. Schedule a local interview. Many colleges are expanding their capacity to provide off-campus interviews either conducted by admissions staff or alumni in the area. Although the staff interviews are largely extensions of the service offered on-campus, alumni interviews usually kick in after you’ve submitted an application. Either interview may be “informational” or “evaluative.” Regardless, don’t neglect this very important method of connecting with the college of your choice.
13. Personal communication. It may seem old fashioned, but don’t forget the power of personal communication. At many colleges, you will have an assigned admissions counselor who visits your high school (see above), staffs the local college fair (see above), and reviews your file. Networking can be a very powerful tool in the admissions game, so if they’re open to it, get to know your admission counselor. This is not a license to badger overworked staff. But if you have questions and feel comfortable making a more personal connection, don’t hesitate to call or email your area representative.