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How fly-in programs can revolutionize your college search process
If you’re a student getting ready to apply to college, it’s probably safe to assume that you have a stack of college brochures even heavier than your algebra textbook. You’ve probably even spent more time on your dream school’s website than you do looking at Instagram! However, it’s no surprise that these pieces of information don’t actually allow you to experience the “feel” of a given campus.
College visits are without a doubt the best way for a student to get to know whether or not a given school will be the right fit for them. While visiting campus might put a good way to put your mind at ease, it’s definitely not the easiest step to take in the college applications process. For a high school student with a substantial amount of schoolwork, college applications, extracurriculars, and possibly even a job to worry about, it’s not a walk in the park (or quad!) to go away for a day to visit a prospective college (or maybe even several days, depending on where the campus you are visiting is located). While campus visits can be inconvenient for any student, this process can be even harder for low-income students because of how expensive it is — think about the cost of hotel rooms, gas, and time taken off of work. Again, this can be made even worse if you live particularly far from the campus that you’re interested in visiting.
Luckily, fly-in programs are a helpful and accessible resource for many students, especially students of color,those who are low-income, and/or first generation students. For more information on applying to college and applying for scholarships as a first-gen student, check out these blog posts: Resources for First-Generation Applicants and Scholarships for First-Generation Students.
To learn more about fly-in programs and how they can expand your college search possibilities, read on!
What is a fly-in program?
Fly-in programs are programs in which colleges will pay for high-achieving seniors to come visit their campus, usually for about 2 or 3 days. These programs are often offered specifically for low-income students, students of color, and/or to those who will be the first in their family to attend college. Schools want to give everyone the opportunity to visit campus, especially those that may not be able to visit otherwise.
Schools will usually fly in a decent number of students over the course of a few days, so in addition to visiting campus and getting a feel for the school, you will also get the opportunity to meet students from all over the country (and maybe even the world)!
What costs are covered during fly-in programs?
Every fly-in program will be different, so the cost (or lack thereof) of a program will depend on the school. If you are especially concerned, you should definitely take the time to visit the webpage for the fly-in program or even call the school beforehand and clarify.
Traditionally, during a fly-in program, transportation, food, and housing will be provided and paid for by the school. Most schools will only front the costs of travel and transportation for the students invited, so if your parents were hoping to join you on your campus visit then they’ll probably have to pay their own way. Vanderbilt University is the one exception to this statement; the school will pay for admitted students and one of their parents to fly out for a day, with the option of an overnight trip.
What are the benefits of these programs?
First and foremost, we at CollegeVine can’t overemphasize how important it is to get a good sense of the campus “feel” before you commit to attending a given school. Just like a FaceTime call with a friend isn’t the same thing as hanging out with them IRL, looking at pictures of a college online or through brochures can’t compare to physically being on the campus that you may end up calling home for the next four years.
During a fly-in program, you’ll usually get to stay overnight in the dorms with students, eat in the dining halls, sit in during classes, and arguably most importantly, interact with real students and ask real questions that only a current student could answer. Is there a culture of stress on campus? Is the food really as nice as the dining page on the website makes it out to be? Is it true that there is a campus-wide snowball fight during the first snowfall of every season? All of these questions and more can be answered by the people who have always been best-equipped to answer them: real students who most likely remember how confusing and overwhelming it can be to transition from high school to college.
During your program, you might also get the chance to complete an admissions interview or speak with a financial aid officer in person. Again, this can be a great opportunity to ask the questions that have been burning in your mind since you decided you wanted to apply.
In short, you’ll learn tons of valuable information about the school in just a few days, and most of it is information that you usually wouldn’t be able to access from afar. These programs are also a great precursor to the college experience. For many students, a fly-in program is an opportunity to experience life as a real college student away from your family. The switch from high school to college is no doubt a big one, but knowing what it’s like to live on campus beforehand can certainly help make move-in day feel much less daunting.
Are these programs just for admitted students?
Most fly-in programs are offered to students who have already been admitted, but there are a few programs for students who have not yet applied. Schools with sometimes consider flying out prospective students, but you’ll usually have to be pretty promising — and the application process can be rather competitive as well.
Programs for prospective students will usually take place in September or October before apps are due, whereas programs for admitted students will take place in April prior to College Decision Day, which is usually on May 1st.
The Columbia Engineering Experience, for example, flies out high school seniors in October who are interested in Columbia’s Engineering program. Students get the chance to stay with engineering students, meet faculty, and even meet student leaders of Engineers Without Borders, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Native American Council, the Society of Women Engineers and many others. The MIT Weekend Immersion in Science flies out students in September and October, and they get the chance to talk with students, professors, and even visit labs. Penn’s Early Exploration Program and the Hopkins Overnight Multicultural Experience are two other examples of fly-in programs for prospective students from underrepresented groups.
A more comprehensive list of fly-in programs, complete with programs for prospective students and application information, can be found here. For more information about campus visits, be sure to check out these CollegeVine blog posts: