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How to Evaluate Colleges From Far, Far Away

If you can’t visit campuses in person, what’s the next best way to get a feel for the school and figure out if this is the university for you?



By Stacey Kaye, Job Search Skills Coach at CampusToCareer.Net

June 12, 2020


Under normal circumstances, chances are you would have the opportunity to visit a few schools, tour the campus, meet current students, and walk around the college town. Unfortunately, given the pandemic, it may be difficult to travel for the unforeseeable future. So, if you can’t visit campuses in person, what’s the next best way to get a feel for the school and figure out if this is the university for you? We’ve come up with a list of eight ways you can get up close and kind of personal with schools. Even if you do get to visit a few schools in the next year, take a look at these ways to learn more about the colleges on your list.

Virtual tours on college websites: Did you know, years ago colleges created and posted virtual tours of their campus? Yep, that’s right. They knew it was hard for students and families to travel to visit all of the different campuses, so they used technology to show off their campuses to prospective students. Just visit the websites of the colleges on your list. Chances are, if you click on “admissions,” you will see a link to some type of virtual campus tour.

Examples:

Tour Brandeis University here.

Tour University of Michigan here.

Tour University of Georgia here.

Student generated videos: Sometimes the video the school features on their admissions page paints the perfect picture, making it hard to determine what the school is really like. Wouldn’t it be great to watch student-made videos about various colleges? Well, you can! Simply create a free account on CampusReel, search for the schools that interest you and chill. In addition to student-led campus tours, you’ll also be able to watch student-created videos entitled, “A Day in the Life,” “How I Got In,” plus videos about dorms, food, academics, social life and more.

Talk to current students: You probably already know a student at the universities that interest you. Or, maybe your parents have a friend whose son or daughter attends the colleges on your list. Many schools also have student ambassadors, which is a role current students apply and interview for once at the college. Student ambassadors love to answer any questions prospective students have about the school. No matter if you have a personal connection to a student who attends the college, or if you don’t, the point is to reach out to several students at each school. Ask them what they like and don’t like about their school. Ask them to which organizations or clubs they belong. Ask them what they do on the weekends, other than homework, Greek life and eating out. And of course, ask them about their major and minor. It’s a good idea to talk to more than one current student, because everyone has a different opinion and perspective. Take notes during each call so you can remember who said what. If you are applying to eight schools, and you talk to two people at each school, that’s 16 students who are going to give you valuable information you may want to review later. Oh, and don’t be shy about reaching out. Older students remember what it’s like to be in your shoes and want to help you. Also, if the student loves their school, then they will absolutely love talking about it.

Learn more about University of North Carolina’s student ambassadors here.

Learn more about University of Alabama’s student ambassadors here.


Social media pages: Since colleges are trying to attract teens, they’ve gone all out with their social media accounts to make it easy for you to connect and see their campus and student body. Lots of schools have Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Snapchat (school themed geo-filters) social media accounts. View, follow, and friend to get a flavor of each university. What are the messages being posted? Review the comments. And don’t stop there. Be sure to search for social media accounts related to a specific interest you have, such as the school’s marching band, robotics club or tennis team. Each club or social organization probably has its own social media pages for you to check out and try to get a sense if this college is for you.


Student and local newspapers: Just about every college has its own student-run newspaper featuring news, events and editorials. Most of these newspapers are probably available online. Take a look at the news articles. What topics seem to be important at this university? Read the editorials. Is the student body vibe liberal, conservative, or a mix? Peruse the campus event listings. Are there events you could see yourself attending? Look at the advertisements. What types of student-related businesses are near the campus? Also, each college town usually has its own newspaper. Again, look for it online and go through the same analysis as above.

Examples:

Read Indiana University’s student newspaper here.

Read the local Bloomington, IN newspaper here

Read Ithaca College’s student newspaper here.

Read the local Ithaca, NY newspaper here.


Talk to alumni: While you should definitely talk to current students, it’s also a good idea to talk to alumni. People who graduated within the last five years who can give you another perspective. They can also tell you how strong the alumni network is, which can give you some insight into how much time and money the school invests in alumni activities. As always, come to the call with good questions. How did their alma mater help them pick a career and land a job? What services or opportunities did they take advantage of while in school? Or, do they regret missing out on some opportunities that could have helped them launch their career? Ask how active they currently are in their local alumni network? Are there lots of alumni network events where they live or only a few? How large is the alumni network in their city? What types of events does the alumni network host and how often?


Read about alumni: Most schools have an alumni section on their website. There you can read about people who graduated from the school and learn more about their careers. This can be quite eye-opening. You can learn about all of the interesting fields alumni pursue, awards they receive, and how the school helped them launch their career. You can also Google the school name, plus the word, “alumni” (“Tulane alumni”), and chances are you will discover notable alumni who attended the school. Depending on the reason you are interested in the school, and what career paths you are considering, this may be of interest to you. Remember, most schools only have a handful of notable alumni and then there’s everyone else. However, this type of search could be interesting.

Examples:

Tulane’s alumni page.

Boston University’s alumni page.

Read student reviews: The dictionary defines “niche” as a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment. When college counselors talk about “the right fit” between you and your college choice, they are talking about finding your niche. Turns out the website Niche.com is a great site to research colleges. The site features easy-to-read and comprehensive report cards, rankings, and reviews which can provide distinct insights. A word of caution about reviews. More often than not, people who write reviews tend to do so because something exceeded or fell short of their expectations. The people who were fairly pleased (in the middle) may not be as likely to take the time to write a review. Therefore, the reviews may be skewed, but they can still provide you with some insight.

After reading the above suggestions, hopefully you now realize there are many ways to get acquainted with a college without actually visiting the campus. If you do get a chance to visit a few campuses, be sure to add some of these tactics to your research.


Stacey Kaye is a job search skills coach and the founder of CampusToCareer.net. During weekly 1:1 coaching sessions, Stacey teaches college students and recent grads how to conduct a successful search for an internship or a job. In addition to learning how to network and interview like a pro, students also learn how to appropriately follow up with professionals and use social media properly during their job search. An experienced marketer, part-time standup comic and mother to two teenage daughters, Stacey is known within her circle as the person who always knows the right person to call. Learn more at www.CampusToCareer.net.



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