Many students apply to colleges without being able to tour them first. So, if you are in this category, don’t feel bad. You can get just about all the information you need without spending the time and the money.
- Take a virtual tour of the campus online. Is it the size you want? Is it too suburban, urban, rural, or just right? Does the architecture feel welcoming to you? Can you see yourself making a home there?
- Find out how many first-years are in the incoming class and how many undergraduates and graduate students are on the campus as a whole. The college experience with 400 classmates differs a lot from the college experience with 4,000 classmates. So does the alumni experience. Which one do you prefer?
- How many students live on campus vs. commute? Schools with large residential populations tend to have a lot more campus activities for students. Commuter schools can seem very empty in the evenings once everyone has driven home. Which do you prefer?
- Read the student newspapers and see what the most important issues are, according to the student reporters. Do they interest you?
- Look at the list of student organizations and click the links to see which are active and which are not. Though colleges often list hundreds of organizations, you will find on closer inspection that many groups haven’t updated their pages in years and are virtually dead. Are there enough active organizations in the areas that excite you?
- Check out the campus security statistics. Are there numbers that make you hesitate? If so, call them and inquire about them. Are there robust programs around campus security for undergraduates?
- What sorts of support systems does the college have for academic advising, tutoring, learning skills, disabilities, medical and psychological care? Is there a teaching and learning center that undergraduates can utilize? A language learning laboratory? A wellness program? Do they have everything you might need in the area of support?
Your major should offer an academic home to you, so most importantly, look at the departmental websites of your top three majors/concentrations of interest, and:
- See if they provide the names of some of the juniors and seniors majoring in the fields, and contact them. Ask them about faculty contact, the size of classes in the freshman and sophomore years, internships, work-study jobs, and research opportunities. Be sure to ask about laboratories, practice rooms, theaters, or whatever the relevant facilities are. Ask the students if they would enroll in that school again if they had to do it all over again.
- Contact a departmental administrator and ask if there are faculty you can talk to about the major(s) offered. If there are, then set up a time to talk to them and ask some of the same questions. Ask as well where they went to college and graduate school and whether they would recommend this college for someone interested in their field. If there aren’t, that will tell you something, too.
- Find out if there are special projects, like journals, conferences, or events, for undergraduates that offer contact with faculty and graduate students. Is there a senior thesis or other capstone project required of all majors? How are those set up? Do you have to find your own adviser?
- Peruse the list of full-time, part-time (adjunct), and lecturing faculty. Are there faculty who you could see yourself interacting with and learning from?
- Find the study abroad or global programs office site and explore the offerings there. Does the college itself sponsor programs in countries of interest to you? Do they also partner with other institutions to include global opportunities that appeal to you?
- Check out the career services site, and see if there are peer advisers whom you can contact to get a sense of the support you will receive there. Is there an alumni database? What kinds of internships, career fairs, and other programs do they offer for undergraduates?
Once you have gathered all of this information, you should have a pretty good idea of whether the school belongs on your yes, no, or maybe list. Happy hunting.