When you apply for a college, one of the natural desires is to visit the school and get a feel for the campus, academics and student life. On a campus visit, prospective students can go on a tour of the college, speak to students and professors, and check out dorms, classrooms, and the campus itself.
Also, some colleges, private more often than state, favor students who visit their school for merit aid, particularly if that student sits through an interview.
However, traveling across the country may not always be feasible or practical for students and their parents. The question is, are college visits necessary before applying? And if you aren’t able to schedule a visit to a college you want to pursue, are other options available that can offer the same information or experience?
The main concerns about college visits are the financial aspects of the travel involved. Particularly if you plan to visit more than one college far away from your home, the time it takes to travel to and visit colleges may determine whether or not the trip will even be worth it.
If finances are your biggest worry, start planning ahead of time to figure out the most inexpensive logistics. Is it more affordable to drive rather than fly? Are cheaper hotel rooms or other options available, such as rooming with a student or staying in on-campus housing?
Try sites like Priceline or Hotwire for inexpensive hotel rooms, or contact the college directly or reach out to other current students via social media, as they may have suggestions for how you can cut down on travel costs.
Time is another aspect to factor in, as every day you spend traveling and visiting colleges is another day away from school, work and other responsibilities. Flying usually takes less time than driving when the college is far away, but it may not be practical in terms of cost. You also need to know how long is enough time to do and see everything you need to make the right decision.
Plan out your days carefully to ensure that you achieve what you came there to do in a minimal amount of time so you don’t miss out on too much back home.
Finally, you have to ask yourself whether or not the trip will actually be worth the money, time, and hassle. If you know enough about the school to make an informed decision without the visit, then you may not need to go. For example, if all you would do by visiting would be to see the campus and classrooms firsthand rather than actually learning more about the college itself while you were there, it may not be worth the trip.
If you can’t afford to visit a college, don’t have the money, or aren’t sure if it is even necessary, you have other options:
1. Find an online video or photo tour of the campus A virtual tour can orient you to where you will be spending a lot of your time and will likely offer other tidbits of helpful information along the way.
2. Contact current students via email or social media. Students are often the most beneficial source of information about the school itself, and a college search on Facebook or hashtag search on Twitter, for example, may provide contacts who can offer tips and relevant knowledge you need to make a decision.
3. Check out college blogs. Blogs are more common than ever, and colleges are no exception to adopting them. Student blogs may be particularly helpful for answering the questions you would ask on a college tour.
4. Read the college website thoroughly. The college website itself can answer many of the questions you have that you would normally ask on a tour, such as information about schools, classes, dorms, clubs, and on-campus amenities. Also look for a link to the college newspaper, which may contain useful stories and insider information about the school written by current students.
5. Reach out to professors in your academic area. Professors’ email addresses are often available on the college’s website in their respective departments. If you have questions about a particular class, major, or other aspect of the academic area you’re interested in, they can answer them without you having to go all the way to the campus to ask.
Visiting prospective colleges has its merits, but if it isn’t possible for you, you still have other options to lead you to the same information you can receive firsthand on an actual trip to the school. As always, do your research, and plan ahead of time to ensure that you make the most out of your trip to the school or your time spent gathering the information you need to make the best decision.