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Are you interested in visiting a college for free? Yes, for free. No, not your local community college or state school. I’m talking about a college that is potentially on the other side of the country, thousands of miles away from where you are right now. And yes, for free.

At first, it may sound too good to be true, but it definitely isn’t. Fly-in programs are great opportunities to visit a campus and get a feel for what the environment and atmosphere is like. These programs usually take place over the course of a weekend and spill into one or two school days. Although you’ll miss a few days of instruction by attending a fly-in program, the benefit of visiting a campus far outweighs the cost of missing school for a few days.

You may be wondering, “If such programs existed, why have I never heard of them?” The main reason for this is because fly-in programs are mostly offered by liberal arts colleges (think Williams, Amherst, Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, and Pomona). However, some major research universities such as Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Dartmouth also offer fly-in programs. These programs are unique because they give you the opportunity to experience life as a student. You stay in a dorm with a student, you grab lunch in their dining halls, and you attend classes and lectures. There is no substitute for finding out more about the college experience.

If visiting a college campus for free sounds like something you would be interested in, there are compiled lists that have the different colleges who offer these opportunities. (A simple Google search of “fly-in programs” should bring up the most up-to-date lists of available fly-ins!) Most of them take place in either October or November, and they’re exclusively for seniors. Many of the fly-in programs are also for specific subsets of population. For instance, it may be geared toward those with a lower socioeconomic status or those with a multicultural background. However, if these don’t descriptions don’t fit you, don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of programs that aren’t specifically limited to these groups.

Before you get too excited, there’s a catch. No college will pay for you to visit their school, unless they know that you’re qualified to be admitted to their school. And that’s the caveat: you have to apply. Generally, the applications aren’t very long, and they’re formatted similarly to a college application. You may have to write a brief supplement, list your grades and test scores, and fill out general information about yourself. Regardless of whether or not you get in, filling out these applications will give you good experience for later as you work on your college apps! With that said, please note that whether or not you are admitted to a fly-in program doesn’t reflect on your chances of being admitted to the university. It may help you if you’re admitted, but it won’t negatively affect you if you aren’t!

Still not convinced? Are you thinking, “Why would I want to visit a liberal arts college?” I’ll be honest; when I was accepted to my first fly-in, I had the same thought. I would tell people where I was visiting, and they would look back at me with vacant stares. Liberal arts colleges are great, because there’s a heavy emphasis on the students. Classes are small, professors are welcoming, and the community is very close. These are all great benefits of attending a liberal arts college. It didn’t hurt that the first fly-in program I attended has been known to be one of the best and most welcoming fly-in experiences out there (shout out to Explore Bowdoin!). If you want to find out more about liberal arts colleges, TP has some great articles that talk about liberal arts colleges here and here. And if still you don’t believe me, apply for a fly-in program and see for yourself!

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the author

Benjamin Din is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he is studying journalism and the mathematical methods in the social sciences (what does that even mean?). When he's not writing for The Prospect, he can be found on Twitter as he tries to build his social media presence. For more information, check out his website.

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