Can’t Make it to the College Tour: Explore Schools Without Leaving Home 

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As founders of Daytripper University, a website specializing in college tours, inherently we believe in the value of campus visits. We believe in gut feelings, overnight stays, and exploring the surrounding neighborhood. We believe nothing beats being on campus and talking to students. But, as parents and veterans of our own tours, we also know that college visits are expensive. Plane tickets, hotel stays, the cost of gas and meals—it all adds up. Between work commitments, younger siblings schedules, and the stress of pulling your child out of school for a few days, sometimes it’s just impossible to visit some or all of the schools on your list. Can't get to campus? Don’t worry; there are other ways for you and your child to learn about a college without setting foot on the quad.

Go Surfing: The Internet is your family’s best friend. All colleges have comprehensive websites, some are better than others, but overall you’ll be surprised by how savvy and informative most sites are. Many schools use videos to shine a spotlight on campus, something a static picture just can’t match. Take a look at Middlebury’s website for example, which showcases video snapshots of student’s academic and social life or Clemson’s Moments, where students discuss defining experiences on campus.  YouTube is another excellent source to find videos that bring universities to life, like this broad overview of Emory, or this one for USC.  Some videos target more specific parts of their university, such as this one exploring NYU’s study abroad programs or two students at the New School discussing life as literary majors. We love Georgetown University’s stories, a compelling year-long multi-media documentary series profiling 12 students. Charge your laptop or phone and start googling. 

Get Social: Connect with schools through their social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts offer a glimpse of the community at large and even an opportunity to start conversations with people on campus. Most, if not all schools, have social media teams and accounts filled with high-quality videos, photographs of campus, live-action shots of sports games, student news, and information about school-sponsored campaigns and events. You or your child can use Instagram not only to follow the schools you’re both interested in but also to check out school’s hashtags feeds, such as Vanderbilt’s #vandygram or UT Austin’s #HookEm. It’s a good way to see what students are posting. (Studies show students use Instagram every single day, much more than Facebook and Twitter.) Follow the President of a University on Twitter to get a broader feel for the school’s philosophy. Social media is a great way to get a feel for life on campus beyond the sanctioned college page. 

Virtual: “Visit” a school from the comfort of your living room, and on you’re own schedule by downloading a self-guided tour. Most schools have virtual tours on their websites. Have fun with your high schooler and follow the map, digitally, with walking directions highlighting food courts, dormitories, campus landmarks and nearby attractions. Watch video tours together for hundreds of colleges on YOUniversityTV, like this one for Syracuse.  

Critics Speak: College review sites such as Niche and Unigo provide readers with stats, essential information, chatter and opinions gathered from current students. There are also college-ranking websites such as U.S. News and World Report, Forbes and Princeton Review. The list continues with professor review sites such as RateMyProfessors.com, alumni review sites like The Alumni Factor, and parent forum’s on College Confidential

Go Live: Your child can chat, live, with hundreds of schools, admissions officers and current students on College Week Live—have them sign up here to have access to all of their events and presentations. Using a calendar is a helpful way to stay on top of events like College Week Lives’ online chats, a wonderful opportunity to connect with students and faculty. 

Show Up: Most schools hit the road sending a team of admission representative’s to multiple cities throughout the year; many are probably stopping by your child’s high school. Have your student check with the school’s college counselor about setting up a meeting with a visiting rep. Nothing beats face-to-face interviews, and if your child makes a good impression, it could lead to having an advocate in the room during crucial admissions selection meetings. This could be the factor that separates your child’s application from the thousands of others in the pile.

Fair Game: The goal of a College Fair is to connect high school students and their families with hundreds of universities and college admission representatives in one central location. It’s an excellent opportunity to chat, ask questions and learn more about their respective institutions. Encourage your child to view these talks as an opportunity to learn more about other schools, perhaps even discovering one that might not have been on their radar. College Fairs are listed on the National Association for College Admission Counseling website. Some schools partner with other institutions for joint trade events. For example, Coast to Coast is a partnership between Northwestern, Princeton, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, The University of California and Berkeley that travels to locations across the country. Join the mailing lists of schools your child is interested in to find out when they are coming to your area or participating in a joint session in a nearby city. 

Reach Out: Urge your child to contact a current student, recent graduate or local alumni representative, and arrange a time to speak on the phone or in person. Most people love to talk about their school and will be able to answer many of their questions. Even if you think you don’t know anyone, ask around, you’re bound to find a connection. Also, your high school counselor may be able to put your son or daughter in touch with a recent grad. They’ve worked with hundreds of students and probably know someone who attended the schools they’re interested in. 

Local Trips: Visit big, small and medium-sized schools close to home. Explore city schools, suburban schools, and rural schools. Although these may not be the schools on “the list,” they can help your child get a feel for the nuances between what different sized schools and campuses offer. One parent told us that after a night at a large university her daughter realized that it wasn’t the right fit for her, and applied only to medium and smaller colleges. Can your child imagine life in a big city? Do they see themselves living in a small town? Does he or she enjoy having a choice between several different restaurants? Does it matter if the nightlife is limited to the one bar on Main Street? Take the time to explore close to home, and narrow down their choices. 

Of course, nothing compares to a college visit, and touring schools can be a vital and fun part of the college process, but it's not always possible for many families. Now thanks to Google, social media, and virtual tours, there are many other ways to engage with a school and “visit” campus. We were amazed at how much information is available online. Do the research together, discuss the right fit and then hopefully visit campus once your child is accepted.