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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

Unigo Expert Network Column
 

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This week's question from Jennifer R., Tampa Bay, FL asks:

"I know that college visits are a great idea but my family doesn’t have the time or money to visit some of the schools I’m really interested in. What else can I do?"

Be a virtual visitor

John Carpenter | Founder
There are lots of options here.  Obviously, check out Unigo's resource of campus videos, but also consider pouring through each school's official website as well as their Facbook page.  Additionally, follow the schools on Twitter and interact with them on occasion, asking questions about your interests.  Use the internet to your advantage; make yourself known as someone who definitely wants to become engaged with others.  You might actually learn more than you would on a campus visit.

Begin by visiting colleges closer to home

Robin Groelle | Founder
Start by visiting a few colleges close to home–one in the city, one in a smaller town, a large campus, and a smaller campus.  These preliminary college visits will help you discover the type of campus culture that will best suit you.  Many students don’t have the opportunity to visit all the colleges that interest them.  Fortunately, virtual tours are available on a number of websites including most college sites.  Many colleges will have a student call, skype, or email you if you’re interested in learning more about campus life.  It’s a great idea to visit a college before you commit to attending, if at all possible

College visiting through your cell phone

Joan Koven | Founder & Director
Absolutely nothing can replace a visit to a college campus for a prospective student. Experiencing the student culture, academic compatibility, and true match can best help determine your interest level. If you are unable to get on a campus then try pulling out your mobile device for your college searches.  More campuses are setting up apps where students can get a tour and information right at the touch of a smart phone screen. Colleges are catering to students that use their mobile devices as a source of information and connection.

Do your homework virtually and be super selective about your campus visits

Lee Bierer | President
All too often families jump in a car (or worse fly across the country) on a bit of whim, “assuming” a college will be a great fit.  If a student hasn’t already researched a college and determined that it is “worthy” of a campus visit than these visits can turn out to be an expensive waste of everyone’s time.  I ask all of my students to read the student reviews on Unigo (www.unigo.com), watch the virtual campus tours on www.youniversitytv.com, read the college guidebook and then complete a form that asks them a variety of “fit” related questions.  Visits are much more pleasant and much more valuable thanks to their due diligence.

Don't be afraid to ask for help!

Mitchell Lipton | Dean of Admissions & Records Registrar
Ask the admissions office for a student or faculty member email address.  Many questions can be answered remotely.  Some colleges will assist with travel costs, e.g. train or bus fare-but you need to ask!  At the very least visit schools near home that have similar qualities to those you're looking at.

Don’t be a stealth applicant: make yourself known to colleges

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
Kids frequently get into colleges they don’t visit, yet colleges take demonstrated interest very seriously. You are lucky as many colleges send representatives to visit schools, college fairs, and hotels in your area. ATTEND!!! Ask questions and introduce yourself. Get the representative’s card. Send an email explaining what you learned, offering more about yourself, and asking a detailed question that requires a response. Request an alumni interview and “like” the college on FB. Talk with friends who attend that college. Finally, spend great care with an essay asking you to describe why you and a college are a good match.

Gather as much information as possible if you can't make a visit

Jill Madenberg | Independent Educational Consultant
Attend college fairs, speak to representatives, take a virtual tour and ask your high school to host an Alumni Day.  When former students come back for a visit, you get an inside view through their eyes of the college experience at different campuses.  Additionally, after you get your admissions decisions, see where you get accepted and ask the schools if they can provide you with transportation to visit.  Visiting a campus is absolutely the best way to see if it feels right for you.  If you can't do that, many schools offer "Ask a student" questions.  It's an opportunity for you to communicate through the website and get some of your questions answered.

Gather information on colleges if you can’t visit

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
College officers understand that not everyone can visit colleges. Between plane fare, rental cars and hotel stays, it can get costly. Students can visit colleges in their area to get an idea of college life and what they would like. Many college representatives travel and provide needed information during college nights. Attend college fairs to meet college reps and get questions answered. Do research on the internet as most colleges have thorough websites with information. Speak to other students and know that social media is active at colleges with online chats, interviews and webinars. Lots of information will make your eventual decision that much easier.

How to be economical and inventive

Steve Thomas | Director of Admissions
Visit online. Talk to current students and faculty. Speak with alumni. Investigate through print and electronic media. Ask your college counselor. Ask former students at your high school who now attend a college or university you are considering. The cost of visiting a college you are considering largely consists of the cost of travel and lodging and food while in the area. Figure out the schools you really want to experience and then figure out your budget for visiting. Make your budget go a long way by being efficient and creative.

Know why you are applying

Betsy Morgan | Founder
Why does visiting matter to some colleges? Because, they have found that if a student cannot seem to find the time to visit, chances are they will not attend, even if they are admitted. So, first off, ask admissions: Does demonstrating interest factor into your decision-making? If the answer is yes, you need to communicate your interest in another way: talk with the admissions staff when they visit your high school or at a college fair; send an e-mail explaining why you cannot visit; register for an alumni interview; ask your high school counselor to advocate on your behalf. Most of all, in your application, answer the “Why Us” essay with plenty of detail and thought.

Local college receptions can get you closer to the “real deal”

Katelyn Klapper | Founder
Many students can’t visit their top college choices until they have been admitted.  So if you have difficulty visiting before you apply, consider these tips to get a feel for the campus. While you are exploring websites, be sure to look at the pages of departments that interest you. If you have questions that a faculty member can answer, think about emailing them directly. Attend a local reception for colleges outside your area.  These receptions often include faculty, current students or very recent grads, and admissions staff. It’s closest you can get to the real deal and vital to determining good match.

Make a virtual visit to college campuses

Bob Tillman | Director of College Placement
There are many ways to learn about life on a college campus other than making a college visit. The computer offers many possibilities. You can access the online student newspaper and read it frequently to get an idea of student life and campus issues. Contact some of the students on Facebook that are attending that college and ask them about their experience at the college.  You can also contact students in a specific department who are majoring in the area that you want to pursue. There are also many colleges that offer blogs on their website where you can learn about first-year student life at a college.

Make sure you're a viable candidate first

Carol Stack | Principal
Yes visits are great – but – you need to be aware that sometimes visiting means falling in love – not a good idea before you know if you are a realistic candidate academically and financially.  My suggestion:  do a few local and easily done visits to have some basis for your decision making.  Then, when you have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 schools to which you have been admitted and know you can handle financially, arrange a visit. If necessary ask the school about any program they may have to assist families with the cost of a visit.

Previewing your "new home" prior to matriculation helps with transition.

Marjorie Goode | Founder
Be creative and connect it with vacation trips, or “buddy-up” with friends, with parental approval of course, during school breaks or weekends. The visits don’t have to always be a family-bonding event. Scheduling independent visits can sometimes offer more travel opportunities. Local alumni associations and mentoring organizations sponsor group visits to campuses. Explore the technology available with virtual tours, CollegeWeekLive, and UNIGO. If cost is a concern, explore colleges with fly-in programs. Some focus on underrepresented populations, but definitely inquire, since many are open invitations. Many students must be selective with college visits. Since time and funds pose limitations, they must wait to visit after they have been accepted to colleges, in order to make their choice.

Research and reaching out can replace campus visits - for now

Craig Meister | President
There are cheap and less time-consuming alternatives to campus visits that will develop your familiarity with colleges and increase your chances of admission. Conduct research on specific college Web sites, student reviews sites like unigo.com, and in college guidebooks.  Then, armed with more knowledge, reach out by email or phone to college admissions officers at the colleges that most intrigue you. Introduce yourself and ask questions that you could not find answers to online. You will learn a lot and impress college reps at the same time. Once accepted, though, make every effort to visit before picking a college.

Short of visiting a campus you can investigate and demonstrate interest

Nancy Griesemer | Founder
With the cost of gas, it’s no wonder families are begging off tours.  Yet, admissions deans are increasingly adamant that if you’re within reasonable distance, you must visit or risk being rejected for lack of “demonstrated interest.”  So what can you do?  Visit virtually.  And don’t limit these visits to large umbrella websites with ads.   Take advantage of online resources but also be aware of places to show interest:  get on mailing lists, “Like” Facebook pages and comment sometimes, attend college fairs and regional or school-based events, or follow admissions blogs. Be a wise consumer and understand that colleges tightly control their images. 

Start visiting colleges early

James Long | Educational Consultant
One step in choosing a college should involve a visit to the college. A student should utilize online tours located on the college website, contact admission personnel to see if they can provide a list of students that they can speak to, and call local chambers of commerce in order to ask specific questions about the college and surrounding area. Also start planning early – 8th or 9th grade – and visit colleges during family travels, even if you don’t plan on going to the college. The more campuses you see, the easier it is to make comparisons.

Start your college search nearby

Whitney Bruce | Independent College Counselor
While you may be itching to spread your wings in a new part of the country, consider learning more about your college priorities by first visiting colleges near your home.  Visiting local colleges allows you to better understand the types of college environments that you prefer, while conserving your family's financial resources as you explore.  You might also discover new college options that you haven't considered previously.

The Internet can help if you can’t visit

George Mills | Vice President for Enrollment
Technology, though not a complete substitute, can be very helpful in giving one a sense of a campus if a visit to the campus is not possible. As you investigate a college, visit the college’s web site, take the virtual tour and view any available videos. Read student blogs. Finally, after doing these things, you might schedule a web assisted telephone conversation with a member of the admission staff. During that conversation you can discuss specific programs, both academic and co-curricular, in which you have an interest and review them while consulting the college’s web site.

The technological visit-the next best option to actually visiting

Todd Johnson | Founder
Visiting colleges online is the next best thing to an actual visit. Most colleges provide tours of their campuses online. But, dig deeper. Use social media to find current students at the college. Ask some of these students what the college is really like. Try emailing a few questions to professors from a department in which you might want to major. Their answers will tell you something about the kind of contact you might with the faculty. Read the student newspaper online to find out what issues are important on that campus. Your virtual visit can provide all sorts of helpful information.

Tour schools from your computer!

Lynda McGee | College Counselor
Yes, it is ideal if you can visit each college in person, but through the power of the internet, you can still “see” each campus and meet some of the people there. To get a quick overview, go to www.youniversitytv.com. They have professional videos of hundreds of schools, and many also have student videos posted. Another site to consider is www.collegeweeklive.com. They have virtual college tours, college fairs, and ways to connect with current students at the schools you find appealing. Sign up and start touring!

Use local colleges as a testing ground!

Marilyn Morrison | Founder
If you’ve never toured a college campus, start close to home. Practice your tour-taking skills by visiting different types of local institutions, including small liberal arts colleges, large public universities, or Jesuit colleges. Then use your reactions to help you decide which colleges in other parts of the country might be good matches. Gather information using online resources such as virtual campus tours (for example, unigo.com and campustours.com), chat sessions with student ambassadors (try CollegeWeekLive.com), and college newspapers (find links on greekspot.com/collegenews). Once you’ve received your admission offers, visit your top two or three choices before making your final decision.

Use new technologies to visit

Susie Watts | College Consultant
There is an iPhone application that will allow you to take a student led tour with a look around the campus, dorms, and dining halls at many colleges.  You can use twitter and facebook to interact with admission counselors and get your questions answers.  You can look at YouTube videos to access information about different colleges that interest you.   You can go to social networking sites to read comments from students who have visited schools and find out what they think.  While a college visit is important, it isn’t the only way to find out which schools might be a good fit for you.

Use the web, join the conversation, and connect on Facebook

Daniel Parish | Director of Recruitment and Communication
Visiting a campus in person is one way to experience how a community operates. Some colleges and universities offer funding to help students visit campus, either before you apply or after you are admitted. You might want to contact colleges to see if you'll qualify for one of these programs. However, visiting is not the only way to connect with a campus! Social media can help you "visit" a campus without actually traveling there. Webinars, video chats, Facebook groups and YouTube channels can all help you experience the community and start a conversation with people on campus

Valuable knowledge might be cheaper than you think

Gael Casner | Founder
Unbeknownst to most families, many colleges offer fly-in programs for students with need.   It’s worth a call to the admissions office to see if they can give you a free flight.  Be aware, though, that some of these programs are offered after you’ve been accepted –to help you make a decision. Meanwhile, consider purchasing a handful of college tour videos from Collegiate Choice Walking Tours.  Filmed by independent college advisors, these no-frill DVDs follow student-guides across campuses as they comment on the college and the student culture.  It’s an inexpensive way to gather valuable information.

Virtual has its virtues

Peter Brass | Director of Student Services & University Advisor
You were blessed to be born in the age of the internet. Check for the availability of local cultural events - sports, the arts - whatever appeals to you. And don't forget the local climate and physical layout. Go online to the weather service and take a look at average temperatures and precipitation for every month of the year then compare to your home. Want to see the whole campus or local town, use Google Earth and tour wherever you want. A virtual visit to the college and area is always at your fingertips!

Visiting campus is worth it and the admissions office can help.

All the time I hear students say they knew they wanted to attend a particular college the minute they stepped foot on campus. You can read all about a college, but often it’s not until you are on campus that you can tell if it’s the right fit for you. Make sure to invest time in the decision up front, because transferring colleges later can lead to a lot of extra work in addition to managing your academic load. If money is the issue, see if your college of choice has a budget to assist students who can’t afford travel expenses.

Visits are for information gathering AND demonstration of interest

Jane Shropshire | Founder
If you can’t visit, you can gather plenty of information through the college’s website, its Facebook page, comments on Unigo and College Prowler, and traditional guidebooks.  Also, talk with family, friends, teachers and employers to find out what they may know about the college.  Let the admissions office know all that you’re doing to gather information and if cost is a significant deterrent to your visit, ask if there are any opportunities for assistance with travel cost.  If not, ask the admissions office if it’s possible to arrange a Skype conversation or interview with someone on staff.  You’ll learn more and you’ll convey initiative!

Why should you visit?

Rachelle Wolosoff | Founder
If you are interested in visiting colleges but your family doesn’t have the time or money, you can “virtually visit”. To see the school, go to the school’s website and check out its videos and photos on other sites such as: www.unigo.com; http://www.youniversitytv.com/; www.Cappex.com; www.Facebook.com; www.Twitter.com; www.YouTube.com; www.goseecampus.com. To get honest answers to questions from students who go there, simply visit: www.unigo.com; www.collegeconfidential.com; www.collegeprowler.com; http://studentsreview.com/; www.Zinch.com. You don’t have to leave your home to “visit” the colleges of your choice!

Would you buy a car you didn’t test drive?

Megan Dorsey | SAT Prep & College Advisor
While you are exploring colleges, do your research online—virtual tours, online forums, and social media all will help you check out each school’s vibe. But before you commit four years and many thousands of dollars to a school, you need to experience the campus and people in person.  Schedule visits to your top picks, taking advantage of discount travel website deals. Schools may help you economize with shuttles from the airport and meals in cafeterias. Many colleges will allow you to stay in a dorm overnight, and some even provide a transportation allowance for students with financial need…be sure to ask!

You can find most of what you need online

Margaret Eszlinger | College Counselor & Life Coach
College websites are loaded with a plethora of valuable info…including their school philosophy/mission, majors offered, clubs/organizations, housing, and of course, the prospective student admissions process. Plan to spend some time learning as much as you can to know if you could see yourself on THAT campus for four years or more. Many sites will let you contact them/admissions, ask alum questions, or watch a YouTube of current students’ experience. Don’t forget to find the tab to request more info to be sent to you via email or mail, and check out their school colors you may choose to adorn as a freshman!


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