Trod the Sod vs. Read the Screen

One of the more intriguing issues facing prospective college students is the campus visit. Technology has advanced so fast that it is now possible to visit most schools directly over the Internet. In these hard economic times, there is a very strong temptation to save a lot of time and money by merely doing all your college visiting via cyberspace (to use a term I don’t like).

Dave Bender writing in cbs13.com, tells how to save money with virtual college tours.  Some of his points:

Going from school to school, no doubt can be expensive, especially when the prospective schools are cross-country. But in this virtual world there’s no need to waste money or your vacation time on a ton of school tours.

Thanks to virtual tours, prospective college students can check out as many schools as they want without breaking the bank . . .

. . . “The combination of still photos and web and video clips make our version of the college portrait a little more dynamic and innovative than the others we’ve seen so far.”

Other websites like CampusTours.com and E-CampusTours.com offer virtual tours of hundreds of schools.

And while you might not skip touring schools in person, the virtual tours can still save you cash.

“College tours are crucial, but now that money’s tighter, you might not be able to visit seven campuses, only three or four,” says Lori.

“It’s costly to visit a lot of schools so I hope that they use the web to weed out those schools that are less appealing. And this, I think, is a good way to figure out which schools are worthy of a visit,” Lori explains.

Sounds good, and saving time and cash is always a welcome relief from these hectic and expensive times.  However, as I mentioned in a previous College Knowledge Q&A:

. . . You can read all the viewbooks and watch all the marketing videos produced by your candidates.  Nothing, though, can match walking down a shady, tree-lined walkway on a fresh, sunny morning on a college campus that could become your temporary home.

You’ll get a sense of the college’s vibrancy, character, and facilities.  If you can do so, by all means visit the campuses while the students are there.  And, to put a further condition on your visit, try to visit in the Fall or late spring, when the full beauty of the campus is showing . . .

. . . Don’t be afraid to ask students what they think of their school.  I recommend four quick questions.  How do like this place?  What do like most about it?  What don’t you like?  Any tips for an applicant?  These questions can inspire longer discussions.  You may even make a friend for the future, if you join their student body next year.

Your final step in the campus-visit process should be to discuss your impressions with your family and make some notes to which you can refer later.  Remember, the more up-front research you do, the less likely it will be that you select the wrong college.

So, what’s a hot-to-trod high school junior or senior to do? My professional opinion is to use a combination of virtual and on-campus visits to narrow your list of candidates.  Your initial list of college possibilities might be quite long. Some high schoolers have as many as 15-20 prospects they want to evaluate.

One excellent way to narrow the field, in my view, is to visit all those colleges’ Web sites and see what they offer in the way of virtual tours. Then check out one of the free, non-college-related virtual tour sites. You can find out who they are by searching Google (or your other favorite search engine) for “virtual college tours.” Check out their offerings, then make a list of the schools that scored high on your “gut-check reaction” index. These are most likely the schools you’ll want to actually drive to and visit.

Of course, there may be exceptions to this process, but it sure can save you a lot of time and wear and tear on your Prius.  Besides, you need to turn off your computer and go outside. There’s a lot of great stuff in this world that doesn’t reside on a computer screen!

Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.