Check the website or contact the admissions office of the schools you’re hoping to visit to confirm campus tour availability and familiarize yourself with visitor protocols. If you’re unable to visit a particular campus, learn more about How to Choose a College Without Visiting It.

For many students, campus life is the most enjoyable part of their college experience. To get a real sense of what the next four years could be like outside of the classroom, you need to do your research. Read on for tips on how to explore the real student experience and get the fullest  picture possible. 

Do a Facebook Deep Dive

Almost every school has a Facebook group (or more than one) where students can share stories and discuss what’s happening on campus. Do a quick search for the name of the school in Groups, or add the intended graduation year to look for more specific ones. Though these groups are usually private, you can reach out to the admins (that information is public) and explain that you’re just looking to get a sense of the school. This is a great way to glimpse the student culture and whether you’d be a fit. You could even talk to existing students for a broad picture of what campus life is like — just be sure to be respectful and follow any community guidelines.

Pretend You’re an Online Sleuth

Google the school you’re interested in. Then go a step further and start scoping out the blogosphere — lots of students blog about their school and campus life. There are even Slack channels for many university departments. For female students specifically, Her Campus is a great site to follow. You can search for your prospective school and read what’s happening on campus. Plus it’s augmented with female-focused articles.

Getting these unfiltered views is a great way to scope out the best each college has to offer, from the most inspiring professors to the best late-night snack spots. 

Make It Snappy

College students use Snapchat in droves. Use that to your advantage by searching  the app to find campus culture shots of your potential schools. The best time to look is on Friday and Saturday when usage among college students spikes. 

Get ‘Gramming

Sure, you can follow a potential school’s Instagram feed, but look a little deeper into the geotags on the app, and you’ll find a treasure trove of off-tour info about the school. If a college has included its location in the post, you can click on the location link and see posts from anyone on campus. It’s an insta-view into the campus culture. Another option is to just search for the school and click on the Tags or Places menu, where you’ll again be able to see what actual students and people in the area are doing.

Disrupt Class (Okay Not Really)

While official college tours do have value, they don’t quite give you the full picture, especially because campus guides would never take you into an in-session class. To get a real sense of how students interact with one another and with professors, you’ll have to find a way to observe a class. You can do this by shadowing a student you know or by coordinating with the admissions office.

Stay the Night

If possible, try to set up an overnight stay, either by arranging it with the school or by bunking with a friend who’s a current student. That way you can get a taste of the school’s social life and dorm living. It’s a great way to see how you’d fit into the community on campus.

Remember, college is going to be your home away from home for the next four years, so it pays to spend extra time researching and visiting campus if you can. So channel that inner sleuth and get the skinny on your future alma mater.