Getting the Feel for a College

It can be difficult to know what colleges are a good fit for you. How do you know if the student body is really politically active? If the party scene is what you want? If the academics are rigorous? If the student body is cutthroat? Most people believe a tour is the best way to get a “good feel” for a school. Tours can definitely be beneficial, but keep in mind that it is often either only one student’s perspective or the perspective of the admissions office. I visited Swarthmore twice and had extremely different experiences on each tour (both good, but still different). To get the most accurate picture of a college or university that you can, try to consult a variety of resources. Listen to the opinions of students, faculty, staff, alums, parents, and community members. Below is a compilation of resources prospective students can use to hear these insider stories:

Ask a Student Getting first hand insight from a current student can be really valuable in the college search process. They can tell you what’s great about a college and what’s not as great as they expected. Keep in mind, though, that each student has a different experience. For every student with really positive things to say, there’s going to be another who is miserable. Listen to each student and think critically about what they have to say. Maybe they say they hate how students are protesting nonstop, but maybe a politically active student body is exactly what you’re looking for. All opinions are valuable ones to hear.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a student to ask. Many admissions offices have an “ask a student” program that gives you the contact information of several current students. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of these schools:

Ask a Faculty Member Academics should play a significant role in your college search. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to study, speaking with a professor is an excellent way to get an important perspective on academic life. For instance, you might ask if most students are engaged in classes (if you ask a tenured professor, you might be more likely to get an honest answer given their job security). Furthermore, the type of response or lack thereof could indicate the accessibility of professors to students. Student-faculty relationships are important to consider in your college search. Most colleges post faculty and staff directories online. Pick one (or more) who sounds interesting and shoot them an email. The response (or absence of one) could provide you with useful information.

Do an Overnight Visit Though somewhat intimidating, overnight visits are an excellent way to actually feel what it’s like to be a student. You get to interact with a wide variety of students, sit in on classes, taste the food, go to student activities, and feel the ebb and flow of a college. Particularly at larger schools, you may end up only seeing a limited part of the student body. You might happen to get a sci-fi loving host who plays Dungeons and Dragons during all their free time. But remember, not all of the student body is like that. When you spend the night at a college, make an effort to explore the community beyond just your host and his friends.

Sit in On a Class There is no better way to experience the academic life of a college than to participate in it. Many colleges will allow prospective students to sit in on a selection of classes. But don’t pick the class to sit in on based solely on the title – look at the syllabus and the professor if the information is available to you.

Read Online Reviews can be an easy way to see a huge variety of opinions in a short period of time. Reading these reviews doesn’t involve potentially awkward social interactions, which can be appealing. However, the anonymity can cause a few issues. For instance, the lack of accountability may encourage some embellished tales, whether positive or negative. Furthermore, the anonymity eliminates the ability for you to ask follow up questions. Like anything though, you must take the good with the bad. While quality may be sacrificed in online reviews, the quantity makes this resource very appealing. Below are a few websites that host college reviews:

View Social Media More and more colleges are engaging applicants via social media outlets like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and other blogs. These outlets often will allow students to read about interesting announcements and events on campus, ask students and admissions officers questions, and see pictures of daily life. That said, much of this information is filtered through by admissions officers so it may be somewhat biased. Look below for a list of official and unofficial Tumblrs that a variety of colleges and universities have.

Official Tumblrs

Unofficial Tumblrs

Have you used any other resources to learn about colleges? Do you have any more questions about the college search? Comment below or ask Hope at hbrinn@thecollegiateblog.com.