How to Decide on a College without Visiting
Most of us would never buy a car or a house without seeing it in person first. So what happens when you have to make just as big and important of an investment without ever laying your eyes on it?
Choosing the right college can feel like a huge decision that becomes even harder when you’re unable to step foot on campus.
There are so many things about college life that transcend brochures and can only be felt and experienced. So how in the world can you decide on a college without visiting?!
Reach out to present students or alumni.
Speaking directly with past or current students gives you the chance to gain unfiltered, honest answers to any of your questions.
This is a great time to gain information that you wouldn’t find answers to online or ask questions about more sensitive subjects. Before your conversation, brainstorm some creative questions that will help you get deeper into understanding life on campus. Here’s a few ideas to get you started: “What 3 words would you use to describe the student body?” “What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your college?” “What kinds of things do you do on weekends and after class?”
If you don’t have any contacts at the college of your interest, you could find someone by: 1) asking your school college counselor if they know any alumni from your high school who attend/have attended the university 2) utilizing social media by checking out student Facebook groups or LinkedIn pages, or 3) asking the school’s admission officer if they can put you in touch with someone.
Take advantage of online forums, blogs and Youtube.
Since you may only be able to get in touch with one or two students from your college, you can broaden your access by finding current and past students who have shared about their college experiences online. That could be on forums like College Confidential or Youtube videos like “Day in the Life of an X University Student.”
These sources often share intimate glimpses into their lives at the university.
Do keep in mind that everyone’s experience is subjective and that the internet tends to attract those with the strongest (and sometimes most negative) opinions. So take what you read with a grain of salt!
Attend college fairs to meet with admissions representatives.
College fairs are great because the universities come to you.
To take full advantage of the opportunity, be sure to come prepared with specific questions that can’t be answered through an online search. Maybe you want to know more about a certain club or have questions about the school’s game day rituals. The representatives can either answer those questions for you or help direct you to the right resources.
When you attend these fairs, and throughout your research, be sure to take notes on each school in order to prevent all the information from blurring together!
Speak to an admissions officer or representative on the phone.
If you are unable to make it to any college fairs, or if your school of interest won’t be in attendance, you can always try to schedule a phone call with the admissions office.
It is especially critical for phone meetings that you come prepared with questions that are not answerable on the school’s website since you want the representative to feel that you are utilizing your time with them thoughtfully and respectfully.
The representative can likely help put you in touch with students or professors as well.
Learn more about the college’s surrounding city or town.
Learning more about the setting of a school can help you get a better sense of whether or not you can picture yourself there. Some questions to look into: What is the city known for? What are the locals’ favorite places to check out? What’s the food/arts/sports scene like?
You can look at Facebook events and local news outlets to see what kinds of events are being highlighted. If you want to physically see the surrounding area, you can always use Google Earth to take a walk around and get a feel for the place!
Check out the university’s publications and promotional materials.
The most basic place to start is by visiting the school’s website and signing up to receive their promotional information via mail or email. You can use these resources to get more information on all aspects of campus life, including extracurricular activities–some schools even share an inventory of all the different clubs on their sites.
You can also look at the school’s instagram and social media pages. Be observant about what they choose to highlight and the type of language they use to describe the school.
Of course, these materials come from the university itself and therefore portray the university in its best light. However, if you put on your detective hat you can use these resources to determine what the college prioritizes most. For example, you might notice a heavy focus on athletics, Greek life, or the arts. You might see pictures of diverse students or students who all look the same. There could be tons of information about the sciences but not about the humanities. These clues can help you figure out the predominant values of the university.
Student-run publications can demonstrate what the student body is most focused on or interested in. Check out the student-run newspaper for current events, campus-wide movements, and thought pieces about the school’s culture.
Oftentimes there are other non-official student-run blogs and publications as well which can give great, unfiltered insight into campus culture. If you’re having trouble finding these yourself, this is a great question to ask current students or alumni when you speak with them.
Look into faculty, courses, and research.
When you better understand the school’s academics, you can begin to uncover predominant values and ideologies and determine what subjects the university considers most important.
If you have a sense of what majors you might be interested in, you can use major sites as a starting point. Here you can look at current research, staff bios, and course syllabi. They might even mention some points about the department’s pedagogy, in other words, the style in which classes and subjects are taught. You can start to picture what your classes might actually look like: if they are more discussion or lecture-based, if there tend to be more projects, tests, or papers, and more. If experiencing a class is important to you, you could consider asking an admissions officer if it might be possible to join in on a lesson via video call.
You can learn more generally about the college’s research by finding the research tab on the college’s website. If you are interested in research yourself, it can be helpful to know what opportunities and funding might be available.
Take a Tour Online
A quick google search for “college virtual tours” will send you to many sites that offer detailed virtual tours of hundreds of schools nationwide. Sometimes the universities might offer virtual tours themselves which can be found on their admissions sites.
The perk of online tours? You get to take your time, choose what you most want to see, and can always come back to look again.
Determine how closely each college matches the characteristics of your dream school.
Once you’ve done all your research, you can take a methodical approach to determine how well each school fits your wants and needs. If you’re someone who loves lists and rational decision-making, this can be a great exercise for you:
Write down the characteristics you are looking for in a university, considering qualities such as: size, location, sports, extra-curriculars, social life, cost, rural/town vs. city, contained campus vs. sprawling, etc. This list can get even more specific if you like, to include topics like equity (diversity of student body, campus policies, and diverse representation in staff and faculty), support (advising services, tutoring and mental health counseling), or anything that is important to you.
A great tip is to organize the list into “non-negotiable” and “would be cool” categories so that you can assess each university based on what’s most important to you.
From here, you can give each school a rating based on the number of criteria it matches. This structured approach can help you narrow down schools and make the decision feel more manageable.
Check in with your intuition.
Maybe you’re not someone who loves quantitative analysis, and even if you are: the best thing you can do is to check in with how you’re feeling.
What schools are you compulsively researching? Do you notice yourself smiling or feeling excited when you research one school in particular? Does a certain course or extra-curricular opportunity get you feeling pumped?
Hear what your gut is trying to tell you and have enough trust and confidence in yourself to listen.
We hope these suggestions help alleviate some of those pre-college jitters.
At Verto, we want YOU to find the perfect post-high school plans for YOU. We’d love to help you plan for an epic start to college with a Verto semester abroad. Reach out to our team to learn more!