How to Research and Compare Schools Without a College Visit

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  • 0:07 College Research Process
  • 1:55 How to Learn More
  • 6:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christie Rowe
What if you're not able to visit all of the colleges you're considering? Don't worry. There are plenty of ways to get a feel for a campus without a visit. You don't need to do everything on this list, but the more you do, the more you'll learn.

Starting the College Research Process

You know what you are looking for in a college, and you're starting to do some research to find colleges that meet your criteria. At this point, you can search for colleges online through sites, such as the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator at A number of organizations provide books and other resources designed to help you as well. Your high school or local library may carry some of these, and you can also buy them online.

These online databases and printed books give you lots of facts and figures about colleges, but they can't really give you the 'feel' of the school. Every college has its own unique culture and character, and I advise students to find one that fits their personality.

Usually it's just not feasible to visit every school you're interested in. A rule of thumb is to choose about 15 schools based on the criteria you've chosen, such as degree programs offered, cost and location. From there, you can narrow your options down to about six to eight schools that you'll actually apply to. So how do you do that? Well, you'll want to look beyond the statistics to things like student life, campus environment and the school's values.

Doing this research isn't just important in terms of choosing which colleges to apply to. It's also important when you're completing your applications. The more you know about a particular college and the more you have a clear sense of what makes it stand apart from others, the better you'll be able to tailor your application materials to that college and increase your chances of getting in!

Five Ways to Learn More About a School

Fortunately, at this point, there are quite a few ways to get a feel for a school and know whether you'd be a good match without actually going in person. Here are five ways to do that:

1. Look at key pages on the college's website.

Most websites will have a link on their home page for potential future students. The button should say something like prospective students or admissions. Clicking on that link will likely take you to a page that includes:

  • Photos, videos and personal accounts by students or alumni
  • Information about housing, cultural events and athletics
  • A link to the college's newspaper
  • Links to the school's social media pages, such as Facebook.

This information should give you a good sense of the school's personality.

2. Take a virtual tour of the campus.

Online 'tours' allow you to get a sense of different colleges' personalities right from the comfort of your computer chair. Many schools offer virtual campus tours on their websites. There are also online providers of virtual campus tours that allow you to explore many schools. You can do an Internet search for 'virtual campus tours' to locate these websites.

3. Watch videos on YouTube.

Go to YouTube, and do a search using the name of the school. You'll likely get a search result for quite a few videos. Some will be professional videos produced by the school. Others will be informal videos filmed by students. But both should give you a good flavor of the school's personality.

However, be sure to put on your critical thinking cap since YouTube videos vary wildly in their quality and accuracy. As one of my high school English teachers was fond of saying, consider the source. Does the person or organization that posted the video seem legit, or does their credibility seem questionable?

4. Speak to students or alumni.

One of the best ways to get information about a school is to speak to people who go there or, in the case of alumni, went there. There are different ways to find people to talk to. Some colleges offer opportunities to chat with current students online. Some may offer in-person chats with alumni in your hometown.

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