From a small suburb on the West Coast, I merely dreamed of flying across the country to settle down in a new dorm. From the hassle of scheduling vacation time to the rising cost of plane tickets, exploring prospective college campuses with my own eyes was completely out of the question. Unlike some peers, who visited and even stayed overnight at their dream schools, I was left to my own devices, longingly staring at glossy brochures and Google Maps.
As a current college freshman, I now reflect that my college application process was completely fine without an in-person campus tour. Through the powers of the Internet and the confidence to talk to strangers, I found myself eager to spend the next four years of my life in a place that I’ve never even been before.
On-campus tours don’t necessarily show everything. Most high school students are only available to take vacations during summer or winter break. During those times, the vast majority of students won’t even be on campus and many buildings and facilities will also be closed. Instead of a lively, thriving campus, it may look like a ghost town. In addition to the environment in which the tour is given, the speech in the tour itself isn’t very informative besides what you could already learn on a brochure. For the most part, you’ll get a very pre-packaged spiel with random anecdotes about the history of the buildings or statistics on which freshman dorm is the biggest. Think of the tour guide as a salesperson: they’re here to sell you a product, which usually includes telling only the best details about it. If you’re looking for the whole picture on student life, you may need to dig a little deeper.
An upside to campus tours is meeting actual students and being able to ask them any personal questions pertaining to student life. Though, you don’t necessarily have to meet current students in real life. By contacting the school’s admissions office or student ambassadors via email or call, you can ask students or faculty about any questions you may have that the glossy brochures don’t necessarily answer. If possible, you may have some recent alumni from your high school that are currently at that college. Don’t be shy to reach out to them in a casual Facebook message asking about anything under the sun. As a current college student, I absolutely love when my younger higher school friends message me about my college experience.
Many colleges heavily utilize their social media to reach out to current and prospective students. Check out everything from their Instagram accounts to Facebook event pages to find out what’s going on around campus. By following the social media pages of students organizations that I wanted to join, I was able to find out what type of activities and events the club held. I also kept tabs on the social media accounts of my prospective major, to get news on guest seminars, career fairs, student mixers, and more. Instead of only checking out the school’s main website, follow their daily social media posts to get the inside scoop on the true ins and outs of college life.
When I was younger, I could barely make it to class, even on my tiny high school campus. Naturally, I was worried about the large, vast college campuses that seemed to be organized with no rhyme or reason. With the help of Google Maps, I was able to map out many of the main buildings that I would visit as a current student to ease my worries. I was able to find the distances between my dorm, the dining hall, my major’s building, the student union, and more. By using Street View, I even “walked around” campus to get a sense of the vibe: the building architecture, the busy streets, nearby restaurants and shops.
Looking back on my college application experience, I now realize I was completely fine going without an on-campus tour. Through social media, Google Maps, admissions offices, alumni, and more, I was able to fully understand the student experience and felt confidence applying to each school.