Jul 21, 2012

10 Ways to ‘Visit’ a College without Leaving Home

Harvey Mudd information session held in Maryland
Colleges expect students living within a “reasonable” distance of their campuses to make an effort to visit.  It not only demonstrates interest but also shows the applicant is doing his or her best to determine if a college represents a good “fit.”

But these trips are expensive, and it may not always be possible to tour all the colleges on your list. If that’s the case, here are a few alternatives to the in-person tour:

1. Get on the mailing list. Colleges maintain mailing lists for the purpose of communicating directly with students. Take advantage of the opportunity to receive information and learn more about the colleges you are considering. But be aware—once you get on a mailing list, you will need to differentiate between college “spam” and real mail. And it’s not always easy!

2. Subscribe to college blogs. An increasing number of colleges are opening lines of communication through blogs. Bloggers can be admissions staff or students who have agreed to write regular columns on their experiences. Both can be enormously helpful in understanding the college, its community, and the process you will need to submit a successful application.

3. Attend college fairs. Colleges and universities typically send admissions counselors or alumni representatives to fairs all over the country. There are regional fairs or
fairs centered on a theme or an alliance of colleges. Although they can be hectic, college fairs are great opportunities to make an initial connection and pick up some glossy brochures.

4. Sign-up for school-based presentations. Throughout the year, colleges send admissions representatives to meet with high school students on their turf. These events are generally organized through the guidance or student services office. Be sure to keep up with the schedule of visits and sign-up for presentations that interest you.

5. Try the virtual method. Colleges are increasingly participating in websites designed to support “virtual” visits to their campuses. The most popular of these sites include CampusTours.com, ecampustours.com, and YOUniversityTV.com. In fact, you can even attend a virtual college fair at CollegeWeekLive.com or take a college course via podcast through iTunes UYouTube offers some professionally-produced marketing pieces as well as a huge sample of student videos, which can also be found on TheU.com. And finally, check out on-campus webcams, which some enterprising colleges use to give viewers a sense of “being there.”

6. “Friend” a college. Colleges discovered that high school students spend lots of time on Facebook. Surprise! As a result, many have built their own “fan” pages, which they use as tools to display videos, pictures, and news articles about their schools. By setting up a presence on Facebook, colleges keep in touch with potential applicants as well as provide them with important information and invitations to events.

7. Tweet. For the most part, colleges don’t expect their Twitter accounts to necessarily result in active exchanges with high school students. They’re content to establish these forums to pass along newsworthy items or basic information. By following a few colleges, you can use Twitter as a tool for gathering data or keeping abreast of deadlines.

8. Check out campus media. There’s hardly a college in the country that doesn’t have a student-run newspaper. Most also have campus radio and/or television stations. What better way to keep up with campus goings on—without editorial oversight from the admissions office or college marketing. You can find most newspapers online, and with a little creative searching you can stream a live radio or TV broadcast.

9. Attend a reception. A local or regional college reception is less of a social event and more of an off-campus information session. Don’t go for the food, but consider it another opportunity to meet admissions staff, ask questions, and pick up more marketing material. You’ll also get a good peek at the competition—students from other high schools in your area who are also likely to apply to the college sponsoring the event.

10. Schedule a local interview. Many colleges are expanding their capacity to provide off-campus interviews either conducted by admissions staff or alumni in the area. Although the staff interviews are largely extensions of the service offered on-campus, alumni interviews usually kick in after you’ve submitted an application. Either interview may be “informational” or “evaluative.” Regardless, don’t neglect this very important method of connecting with the college of your choice.

Keep in mind that after you’ve been admitted to a college, there will be opportunities to visit.  If money continues to be a problem, contact the college in question and explain the situation.  You may be surprised to find many schools have travel accounts to help low income students visit their campuses.

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