Ways to Learn About Colleges Without Visiting Them


Autumn is dawning upon us in just a few weeks, which means a couple things: holidays, festive Starbucks drinks, and of course, college applications. The college application process is practically a world on its own, connecting our high school world with our soon-to-be college world. The first step to the college application process is actually having an idea on where you would want to be for the next four years. While visiting the colleges is always the best choice in this decision making process, you may not always have the time or money, especially if you are looking at out-of-state or international schools. Here are some helpful and just as meaningful alternatives: workshopgraphic.jpg

Research, Research, Research!!! Did I Say Research?

Since you are probably on the internet for the majority of your days, use that to your advantage and browse through various websites and forums that are prospective college student friendly. There are plenty of websites on the internet that include, but are not limited to, college rankings, facts, reviews, and other opinions. Yes, guidebooks can provide this information as well, but the internet has more options, especially when it comes to getting insight from actual college students.

Start off with hitting up the actual websites of the college to learn directly about its history and facts. Then you can begin narrowing down your choices by surfing through student incentive websites, such as Shmoop, College Niche, and College Confidential. Shmoop provides a whole section dedicated to college, where you can find tips on choosing a college and fun little college profiles that can give you a laugh in this stressful process. College Niche and College Confidential are written by students for students. College Niche guides prospective students with reviews and ratings of colleges, and College Confidential has multiple forums where you can interact with current students at colleges, or even with others that are going through the same path as you. Always remember though to research smart and not hard, and look out for any biased or unreliable sources.

Key to Success: Communication

Another way to get a better feel of a campus is to talk directly to advisors, professors, or students from a specific college. Websites like the ones listed above can provide you with chat groups, but the best way to communicate is if you assert yourself first. Usually, there are helpful links and tools on college websites for prospective students where you can contact and talk to members of that college. Professors’ and advisors’ emails are also listed on college websites, and you are actually encouraged to write them an email. Not only will you learn more about the college, but you will also put yourself on a pedestal that says “I am very interested in your school!” which will give you better connections and chances. Talking with your guidance counselor is also key, because chances are they have been doing this for a while, and even if you think they are no help, they have the connections and ability to put you on talking terms with alumni and other students and advisors from the college. Also look out for chats led by current students provided by the college, where dates are usually listed when you sign up for college newsletters. You may be one fish in a huge sea, but it will definitely be worth your while.


Local, At Home Help

You can get almost the same amount of insightful help for colleges in your local area. First off, as mentioned before, talk to your local adults (preferably counselors and teachers)! At most high schools, the administrators and overall faculty use a handful of their time during the fall season of the school year to provide as much help as possible to college-interested seniors. Your high school guidance counselors are practically trained to know the ins and outs of colleges and the college application process. They will usually have multiple pamphlets on various colleges all over the country, as well as college guidebooks. If you have never talked to your counselors before, here is your last chance to start doing so!

One of the best resources are your city’s or county’s college fairs. The college booth or station equivalent of a college campus tour will give you just as much information, especially since there will be a college representative there to answer your questions and talk to you. Also, there will be multiple college information booths present at the fair, so you can start checking off colleges on your list as you go from station to station. Make sure to come prepared with questions and look professional, since these representatives may be interested in you and ask for your information.

You can actually use the digital age to your benefit once again. When you have done all this but still need an extra push to narrow down your choices, take a look at online virtual tours of the colleges. It may not be as invigorating as a real life campus tour, but it can be that little effect that will make or break your decisions.

This Is Just The Beginning

Keep in mind that touring and researching colleges are just the beginning to this new and exciting application process, and that applying to college is the first step to a new chapter in your life. In the end, while all these alternatives will only serve for your benefit, try extremely hard to at least visit and tour the top schools on your college list. It’s especially important to tour the campus once you receive the decision letters in the spring so that you know whether you are making the right choice or not. Picture yourself everyday on that campus, and work hard to make it happen.






Fly-In Programs: An Opportunity to Tour Colleges for Free


When looking for a college to spend the next four years of your life in, many factors come into play. For most, finances play the biggest role when making their decision. It can mean the difference between receiving a significant amount of scholarship aid to pay for your education, having the means to pay it off without creating a strain on your family, or having to take out loans. Other factors include academic rigor, location, size, and extracurricular activities available, all of which hold great importance. Most, if not all of the objective factor’s can be found on the college’s website.  However, one thing that cannot usually be found on the college’s websites is how you will particularly feel at the institution when you are walking on its tree-lined brick path and you look around at your fellow classmates. How will it feel?

A lot of colleges offer virtual self-guided tours through websites such as you visit, or you could always take advantage of Google Maps’ street view feature, however, there is nothing like the real deal.


Fly-In Programs

Touring colleges can mean a car ride to some, and a plane trip to others. Fortunately, colleges realize that traveling to different parts of the country to visit schools is not a luxury everyone can afford. This is the reason why many colleges throughout the nation offer fly-in programs. Through fly-in programs, colleges, particularly liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, and Williams, in addition to some research universities such as Columbia, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins, offer a free trip to their institution which covers transportation, housing, and meals.

These tend to take place on the weekends during the months of September, October, and November, however, they may also include one or two school days, but the benefits of participating make missing a few school days worth it. They are available exclusively to seniors and sometimes are catered to specific demographic subsets such as low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color.  However, don’t let this discourage you from applying! If the idea of visiting a premier institution for free appeals to you, a quick Google search, or a click on this link, will bring up the most up-to-date results.

Applying to Fly-in Programs

When applying to fly-in programs, the key is to start early. Since many of them take place over the month of September, applications for those are due over the summer during the months of July and August.

Here’s the thing, if these colleges are paying for a round-trip to their school, housing, and meals, they are only going to do so if you are qualified to actually be admitted into their school. These applications, in addition to general information about yourself, usually require a transcript, standardized test scores, and sometimes even supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, and an activities list.

Luckily, it very much resembles the actual college application, and you could very well use it to practice for college applications, in fact often the supplemental essay questions are the exact same prompts. With all of that said, it’s good to keep in mind that just because you are rejected from a fly-in program, it does not necessarily mean you will be rejected for admission! Regardless of the outcome, you will have gained a good amount of experience in filling out applications, and at the end of the day, it may aid your application, but it will not negatively affect it!

What to Expect from Attending a Fly-In

In addition to the free trip, what makes these programs so unique is that during your weekend there you get to experience life as a college student. You have the opportunity to attend classes and lectures, grab lunch in the dining halls, and share a dorm with a student, and not to mention an abundance of free college gear!

To make the most of your visit, you could schedule an on-campus interview, knocking out two birds with one stone! During your time there, you will meet with a diverse group of unique individuals from all walks of life who have their own amazing stories to tell, take advantage of this opportunity participate, be outgoing, and get to know these fellow students. Doing so will allow you to get a glimpse of the place you will spend the next four years of your life!

All in All…

I encourage all of you to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities! Applying to fly-in programs will help you become better prepared when the time comes to fill out college applications.  Attending fly-in programs will enable you to experience life as a college student for free, something that is crucial for first-generation students who may not have family members to ask questions to.  In addition, if you attend a college’s fly-in program you are absolutely not obligated to apply to the school! It does not hurt to apply, and of course best of luck to everyone who does!

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