- Your Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Colleges
- What Student Tours and Admissions Meetings Won’t Tell You About a College
Can’t Do A College Visit? Here’s How to Review Colleges Online
It’s difficult to gauge the fit of a college without actually seeing it in person. That’s why we recommend visiting college campuses. However, there are circumstances under which you simply won’t be able to visit the college(s) on your list. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to thoroughly research every college online. Here are the steps to take to review colleges online.
What do you want in a school? Making a list of your needs for college will help you figure out what you’re looking for. Be as specific as possible so you can narrow down your list.
For instance, don’t just say that you want a school that’s “hard to get into.” Instead, think about your interests and field. Look for programs that correspond to them. You might, for example, be looking for a stellar creative writing program. You also might want to join specific clubs or being around a particular demographic. Perhaps you want to attend a religious school, single-sex college, or school that was historically limited to a certain ethnicity, such as an HBCU.
Make a list of “must-haves” that are realistic, such as the specific program you want to study.
For more tips, check out Kick Off Your College Research This Summer With These 5 Tips.
Do a Google search
Google is the starting point for many students. Search for criteria that are important to you, such as your prospective major. This can be particularly helpful if you have a very specific major that not all schools have. For instance, you’ll find English at most schools, but creative writing might be a bit more difficult.
While Google shouldn’t be the end of your research, it’s a good place to begin your search. You’ll gain a broad overview and create a list of schools to research further.
Delve into the websites
While college websites obviously feature what they want you to see, you can get a good idea of what’s important to the school and their values based on what they include…and what they don’t. This can help you gauge a fit—how well you mesh with a school and the values you share—with a college.
Look at the pictures and pages. See what type of news and events they highlight. This will guide you as you develop questions to ask admissions officers and current or former students.
Learn more about gauging fit from a website in How Can I Figure Out a School’s Culture Without Visiting the Campus?.
Look at rankings
Your major and academic and extracurricular interests are important when making your college list. Rankings may also impact your decision.
Taking a look at famous ranking resources such as The U.S. News and World Report and The Princeton Review can help you as you formulate your list and eventually decide which college to attend. After all, they can help you find out if you’ll be challenged academically and be around similarly academically-inclined people.
Getting yourself on lists of candidates colleges send information will help you learn more about the school. You can register on many schools’ websites as well as check off the box on your PSAT and SAT asking if you’d like for colleges to contact you. These schools won’t necessarily receive your scores, but they will be notified that your scores fall into the range of students who typically attend those schools.
Once you show a school you’re interested, they’ll send you emails, updates, and snail mail. This collateral can help you learn a lot about the school, such as its values, the type of student who attends, and what it prioritizes.
To learn more, check out How to Express Interest in a College.
There are many forums dedicated to discussing schools with current, former, or prospective students. You can find them through Reddit, College Confidential, or individual school websites. They can give you an idea of what students really think of the school in question.
Remember to keep the comments in perspective, though. It’s natural for students who have gripes to be more vocal and complain (especially when it’s anonymous), but if many students are voicing the same issues, pay attention.
This is also a good place to ask your questions anonymously, address concerns, and find out what the college is really like from people who know firsthand.
Email alumni and current students
In a similar vein, discuss the school with alumni and current students. You might ask your guidance counselor for the emails of students who attend that school, search for LinkedIn profiles, or ask the admissions offices of the schools in question to put you in touch with students who might be willing to talk to you.
Once you obtain their information, introduce yourself, and focus on asking questions with answers you can’t find online. Ask about their personal experiences, likes and dislikes, and any other burning questions you have. For instance, you might want to know where students spend their time, how they manage their workload, and any challenges they’ve faced. Remember: This is an opportunity to really learn about a school from someone who has experienced it firsthand.
Do Your Homework
If you can’t visit a college to which you intend to apply, it’s not the end of the world. However, you will need to double down on your efforts to learn about it through other means. Take the time to investigate it thoroughly online, and make the effort to hear students’ perspectives, so you know what you’re getting into early on.
For more advice on learning about a college without visiting, check out:
Looking for help with your college applications? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process.