Oct 21, 2013

Even More Ways to Connect with Colleges You Can’t Visit

Georgetown University

Colleges generally 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 time-consuming, 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 by “intentionally” getting on mailing lists. In other words, “request information.” But be aware:  once you agree to receive these communications electronically, be sure to open your email.  Colleges have software that allows them to see if you dump their messages directly into trash.  Yes, colleges can be annoying to the point of spamming prospective applicants.  But in the era of “big data,” you need to know that colleges have the capability of tracking your response to what they are selling.

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 for submitting a successful application.

3.  Attend college fairs. Colleges and universities typically send admissions staff 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 connections and pick up some glossy brochures.

4.  Sign-up for school-based presentations. In the fall, colleges send admissions representatives to meet with high school students on their turf. These events are generally organized through student services or the college/career 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 view a college lecture via podcast through iTunes U. YouTube 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 more 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 coming to students 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.  Work the local network.  Touch base with friends, relatives, and neighbors—see what they know.  You might be surprised at how many have actually visited the campuses in which you are most interested and have useful information and impressions. Or check with admissions offices for the names of local alums who may be willing to spend some time with you. 

9.  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.

10.  Sign up for an online class.  One of the side benefits of the massive open online course (MOOC) movement is the ability to take college-level classes without leaving the comfort of your living room.  If some of the colleges on your list are offering online classes through Coursera, Udacity, or  edX, you can get a feel for some of what goes on in classrooms on campus by signing up and actually taking or auditing a course—you might even learn something useful!

11.  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 likely to apply to the college sponsoring the event.

12.  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.

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