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5 Easy Virtual Ways to Choose the Right College For You

Key Takeaways

  • Due to cost, time, travel, and even pandemic constraints, visiting colleges in person isn’t always an option.
  • Virtual tours and virtual reality provide an easy way to experience campus and academic life without leaving home.
  • Other resources, such as social media, blogs, and student newspapers, can help you access valuable information to aid you in your decision-making process.

By Gina Gallagher | Citizens Bank Contributor

It’s one of the rites of passage of being a high school senior: that rare opportunity to visit a college (and get an excused absence) to experience firsthand what campus life is like. You can meet fellow students, see what’s served in the dining hall, and experience a real live college classroom. For many students, that visit can be the deciding factor in choosing a college.

But what if you don’t have the choice to visit? What if scheduling, money, travel, or even pandemic constraints (yes, that) are keeping you from visiting the list of colleges you’re thinking about attending?

Fortunately, there are some convenient and easy ways to get the information you need to make what could very well be one of the biggest and smartest decisions of your life. Here are five ways to evaluate your college experience without setting foot on campus:

1. Take a virtual tour

You may not be able to visit the college campus in person, but thanks to technology, you can bring the campus to you with the virtual tours now offered by many colleges and universities. These video tours let you view living areas, classrooms, dining halls, campus facilities, sporting events, and more to get a sense of academic and social life. You can usually find campus tours on a college’s website under admissions.

Another option is to virtually tour schools via sites like CampusTours, YouVisit, and eCampusTours.com. All offer 360 degree tours and virtual reality (VR) tours (you'll need a VR headset) for hundreds of state and private universities. From libraries to dining halls, you can see pretty much everything on your college search checklist. With the Google Expeditions app, for example, you can experience a rare first look at college to see a typical student’s dorm room, visit college and nearby landmarks, and experience what classes are like.

Of course, if you want to see the areas surrounding the list of schools you're interested in, you can also use your old friend Google Earth. Also available is Google’s Poly, which lets you view 3D scenes submitted by everyday students.

RELATED: 11 Things to Look for on Your College Visit

2. Work with counselors

There’s a valuable resource for college information available right near you: your high school guidance counselor. Your counselor should be able to provide additional information on the colleges you’re interested in as well as a list of former high school students who have attended the schools you’re considering.

You should also leverage the expertise of a college admissions counselor to learn more about the academic requirements of the school and activities as well as financial aid programs. Most counselors are available to speak with you over the phone or via chat using Skype or FaceTime. They can also connect you with current students, alumni, and faculty members for you to interview. Keep in mind, though, that anyone they recommend is probably only going to tell you about the good parts of the school. And let’s face it, nothing is all good.

RELATED: 5 Financial Aid Questions to Ask Prior to Paying for College

3. Tap social networks

A great way to experience everyday college life is to tap into a school’s social media networks, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. There you can get a sense for what’s happening at the school as well as the social and cultural vibe of the school. You can also see comments and real opinions of students who attend the school (not paid ones in the admissions offices). Don’t be afraid to direct message the pages and ask about students, professors, or specific department personnel you can contact to learn more. Behind all those pages are real people who can help you.

Another social networking site you can capitalize on is LinkedIn, a professional networking and career development site where you can connect with alumni and faculty members. If you don’t have your own LinkedIn account, ask your parents to search for prospective contacts by entering the college name on the site’s search tool.

4. Check out blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and student newspapers

If you’re looking to learn more about college life from actual students, search student vloggers and bloggers on YouTube or Google, as well as podcasters who are willing to share the extracurricular activities you don’t often read about in school catalogs.

If the college has a student newspaper, read through a few of the online issues to learn about campus life, activities, and challenges.

RELATED: How to Choose the Right College for You

5. Connect with college students and higher education faculty

If you receive referrals or know local alumni or students who currently attend the college, schedule time to talk to them over the phone. Be sure to prepare a list of “real” questions on your mind, such as “What’s the campus like on the weekends?” “Is the food gross?” “Is it difficult to meet new people?” You may also ask alumni about their experiences finding employment in the real world after college.

Talking to a faculty member will give you a strong sense of the academic environment and expectations. If the faculty member teaches an online class, you may ask if there’s a way for you to virtually audit the class to view real assignments and discussions.

RELATED: 10 College Life Hacks Every Freshman Should Know

There’s no question: Researching a school virtually is not as exciting as visiting in person. It can, however, give you the information you need to make your college decision — and ensure you won’t encounter unexpected surprises in the dining hall.

Ready to learn about your college financing options?

We’re here to help virtually as well. Just call 1-888-411-0266 to speak to a Student Lending Specialist or visit our Student Lending page — we’re on chat!

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