College Admissions

Visiting Colleges Without Leaving Home

I always advise families to visit colleges over spring break, since the colleges are in session and prospective students can get a real feeling for campus life. But given the current state of the economy, many families can no longer spend thousands of dollars traveling around the country. While visiting a college is a great way for a student to demonstrate interest, and that can be a factor in admissions decisions at some schools, admission officers understand that fewer families will be making campus visits now, and they will look for other signs that you are a serious applicant.


Some high school juniors will apply to colleges in the fall and then wait to see where they are admitted before visiting next spring. Since many colleges have special programs for newly admitted students in April, this schedule can work. But if you’re not going to visit all your colleges before applying, it is especially important to make sure you’ve researched the schools so that you can be sure you will end up with acceptances at schools you would really like to attend.


After you’ve put together a preliminary list of colleges that have the programs you want and seem to be the right size and meet whatever other criteria you’ve established, you can start researching the schools. While nothing replaces a real campus visit, you can get more information about colleges by checking out the virtual campus tours that are available at many college websites. In addition to photographs of the campus, some schools have professionally produced videos featuring interviews with students and faculty.


If you’re considering 15 colleges but can only visit five, virtual tours can help you narrow the field. You can get free 8-10 minute videos of over 200 colleges at, while has short interviews with students at many colleges. One of my favorite websites for learning about colleges, has student reviews and videos, but you might not find all the colleges you’re interested in since the site is still fairly new.


If you want the experience of taking a student-guided campus walking tour without leaving your living room, College Choice Walking Tours, at, offers DVD recordings of tours at 350 colleges. The tours are about an hour each, and there are no slick production values and no professional narration, so it’s like watching someone’s home video of a campus tour. The cost is fifteen dollars for each college.


Many college websites now have blogs written by admissions officers and students. Of course, you are likely to get a very positive view of the school. You need to evaluate everything you see with a critical eye, and that also applies to the sites with student reviews, since they are not unbiased either. 


I tell students to pick up a school newspaper when they’re on campus, but you can also access school newspapers online. They are great for learning about the political and social climate on campus, as well as what concerts, lectures, and movies are scheduled each week.


If you’ve already chosen a major, you can go to that department on the school’s website and read up on course offerings and professors. You can also see what students are saying about the professors at  If you are a prospective psychology major and see rave reviews for several psychology professors, that’s a good sign.


This kind of research will take time, but by narrowing your college list, you could save thousands of dollars in travel costs.