By Diana Hawkins

There is nothing like a campus visit for college-bound high school students to help students and families understand the college experience at a particular school. If it’s the pandemic or other reasons that have ruined your opportunities for exploration, don’t give up on research! There are many ways to learn about colleges that don’t require a road trip or an airplane ride.

1. Attend the info session – Perhaps, this is the most obvious one, but you might be surprised at how many students don’t take advantage of the virtual info sessions colleges provide. Generally speaking, admissions offices know the information you are seeking, and they have well-planned presentations that center on helping students and families get acquainted with a school. For most colleges, signing up is as easy as going to the school’s website, clicking on the Visit tab, and choosing the virtual opportunity that fits your needs. Beyond the info session, some colleges will offer a customized virtual visit with presentations from academic or athletic departments or even student support services.

2. Social Media Channels – Are you using social media to learn about colleges? Colleges have caught on to the benefits of using these channels to promote their schools. Finding great video campus tours on YouTube is always a good bet, and I often find useful information about campus clubs and activities on Facebook. However, students highly rate platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram for giving glimpses of campus life. Following or liking a college is a great way to get a steady feed of information about a school, and it’s also an excellent way for a student to demonstrate an interest in a college – which may even factor into your admissions decision (but that’s for another blog post!)

3. School Newspaper – At first thought, this idea might sound a little “old school,” but a college’s online newspaper provides a wealth of information for potential students. There you will find articles about student organizations and achievements, campus improvements, crime statistics, local news, and hot-button issues that are affecting students. Viewing the site over some time gives you an objective look at the experience a college offers without the marketing filter.

4. Student Reviews – Do you read the online reviews before making a purchase or eating at a new restaurant? Many of us do, and then we use that information to help form our opinions and make decisions. Much in the same way, student review web sites for colleges, such as Unigo, provide student reviews that shed light on a college’s academic and social culture. A note of caution here: don’t place a too high value on one reviewer’s comments. Instead, look for consistent themes that appear in several reviews to understand a school better.
5. Current Students – If you were touring a campus, I would suggest that you visit the student union and randomly ask a few college students if they would share their experiences with you. You can virtually replicate this process by contacting the admissions office, an academic department, or an activities office and asking if they can connect you with current students. Asking these students about their college experiences will help you round out the information you’ve gathered from other sources.

Don’t let the pandemic or other obstacles stop you from researching colleges. Putting in the time using these resources can be fun and it will help you make informed and thoughtful decisions. #OurProcessYourSuccess