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.

Considering that campus life can be the most enjoyable part of a student’s college experience, it’s important to get a clear sense of what the next four years could be like outside of the classroom. That starts with doing some  research to uncover the real student experience at the colleges you’re interested in so you come away with the fullest, most accurate 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 a specific graduation year to look for more narrowly tailored ones. These groups are usually private, but try reaching out to the group admins (that information is public) and explain that you’re thinking of applying and looking to get a sense of the school. This is a great way to evaluate the student culture and whether you’d be a good fit. You could even talk to current students in the group for the most up-to-date perspectives  on campus life — 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, Her Campus is a great site to follow. You can search for your prospective school and read about what’s happening on campus — plus there’s plenty of content written from and for a female audience.

Getting these unfiltered views is a great way to determine the best each college has to offer, from the most inspiring professors to the hippest local coffee shops to the most popular student hang-outs. 

Make It Snappy

College students use Snapchat in droves. Use the app to your advantage by using it to search for campus culture shots of your potential schools. The posts will almost make it seem like you’re right there — and 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, click on the location link to see posts from others on campus who have geotagged the school. 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 can see what students and other people in the area have captured.

Disrupt Class (OK Not Really)

Official college tours can be fun and informative, but they don’t quite give you the full picture — for instance, campus guides would never bring you into a class that’s in session. To get a true sense of how students interact with one another and with their professors, look into how you might attend an actual class. If you already know a student, ask if you can shadow them; otherwise, contact the admissions office and request to be paired with a student.

Stay the Night

If possible, try to arrange an overnight stay, either by coordinating it with the school or by bunking with a friend who’s a current student. Spending the night is a terrific way to spend relaxed time with students and get a taste of the school’s social life and dorm living — not to mention a meal from the dining hall. By going beyond the scripted info session and group tour, an overnight stay is your best avenue for determining how you’d fit into the community on campus.

College is going to be your home away from home for the next four years, so it’s certainly worth the time and effort to research the schools on your list and visit campus if you can. Channel your inner sleuth and get the skinny on your future alma mater.