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.

Typically, visiting a college campus is the make-or-break event that helps high school juniors and seniors decide:

  1. Yes, this is the right school for me!
  2. Ugh, what was I thinking?

But not all students are able to visit every college before adding them to their list or making a final college choice. If that sounds familiar, you’re in luck. Today, it’s entirely possible to get a good sense of a campus without stepping foot on it. 

Go There Online

Many colleges and universities have started offering online tours so be sure to see what’s available. You can also check out independent sites that offer tours. For a truly immersive experience, CampusTours provides detailed virtual tours of hundreds of state schools and private universities. You’ll see inside and get facts about the dining halls, dorms, athletic facilities and more. And when it comes to viewing the surrounding area, Google Earth’s satellite images are your friend.

Get Personal from a Distance

Where online tours will likely answer your questions about the accessibility of professors and faculty, classroom ratios and extracurricular activities, you may want to reach out to current students for more intel. Search for students documenting their college experience online. These inside glimpses into student life will help you answer questions that university-sponsored online tours may not, like:

  • What do people do on the weekends, or do they leave campus to go home?
  • How diverse and inclusive is the campus, really?
  • Which dorms to avoid and which dining hall gives you the best bang for your buck?
  • How long does it take to walk from the dorms to the quad?

Another way to get the real student view of the school is to read the student-run newspaper. They’re easy to find online and often available for free.

Connect

A phone or online conversation with a current student or recent graduate from your area can also give you a sense of student life. Most college admissions offices maintain a list of current students and alums you can talk to, but since they’re usually pre-vetted and chosen because they love the school, it’s sometimes best to do a little digging of your own. Search the online student directory for current students in your desired major and LinkedIn pages for recent graduates, then reach out politely and earnestly.

In the end, while an in-person visit is ideal, it’s important to keep in mind that virtual tours and conversations with those in the know can also add to your information pool and help you make an informed decision.