We can't say it enough: finding colleges that "fit" your wants and needs as a student, and outside the lecture hall, is the goal of your college search process.
You've read our blog posts and you've spent time on college websites. Pages upon pages in your Fiske Guide are dog-eared. Your copy of College Match by Stephen Antonoff is fraying at the corners, and you've completed the insightful self-assessment questionnaires within. The local college fair was last month, and after making the rounds, you've filled an entire book shelf with college brochures. You should be ready to narrow down your list of top colleges, right?
It's time for campus visits, the gold standard for determining college fit. Campus visits can help you to differentiate between various colleges, just like test-driving a car or trying on a pair of jeans can help you to make an educated choice. Can you see yourself there as a student? We recommend visiting as many colleges on your preliminary list as possible. Take a tour, listen to an information session, and pick up the school newspaper. Sit in one of the dining halls at mealtime and observe. Talk to students - choose a few at random - and ask them about their favorite class or what they would change about the college if they could. If you have time, visit a class; some colleges even let you spend the night. By the time you're driving off campus, you will have a feel for whether or not you could see yourself there for the next four years, whether the campus social life is the best fit or you, and if the professors are as approachable as you'd like them to be.
Sounds great, right? Who wouldn't enjoy the road trip with parents? Don't answer that...
Perhaps your holidays are already booked for the coming year. Maybe finances preclude you from making the rounds. Did you think that your list was all set, and all you needed was to log in to the Common Application website? What now?
Enter the age of the virtual campus tour. With a virtual tour, you can see the campus and listen to a tour guide from the comfort of your living room. "Walk" from building to building and across the quads. Follow links to videos, 360 degree photos, and other files to get an in-depth look at various points on the tour. Every college has yet to be represented, but thousands are already online.
The best places to start are the websites of the colleges on your list. Search in the Admissions pages of the site for virtual tours.
If the virtual tour on the college's website isn't quite what you expected, you have other options. There are privately filmed videos on YouTube, brief college tours on Youniversity TV (best for students early in the search process) and as of writing, there are over 600 full college tours on YouVisit.com (better for students who are looking for rich detail).
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, or get online, and visit!