Technology is everywhere we turn these days. It has been a huge help to students in the college search and admissions process. You can learn about colleges’ majors, sports, and activities from a variety of websites; you can take virtual campus tours; and, of course, you can submit applications online. It’s hard to believe, but 10-15 years ago, these options either were not available at all or weren’t at the level they are today.
Amidst all the technology, you might forget one of the most important resources in your college search: people! Colleges make it easy to email admissions officers, and many students take advantage of this. But when you ask an admissions officer for information, keep in mind that you are asking someone who works for the college; he or she is being paid to give you a positive image of the school and to encourage you to apply.
College students, on the other hand, are more likely to “tell it like it is”. If you are visiting a campus, start with simply observing the students. Are students friendly to one another? As they walk, are they saying hello and talking with each other, or do they have their heads down, focused on getting to their next class? Do you see students with whom you think you’d fit in? If you’re looking for a diverse student body, do you see evidence of that?
In addition to observing, you should make a point to talk to as many students as you can. A tour guide provides only one perspective. And, as educational consultant Andrea Aronson explained in her blog post, “Looking Beyond the Campus Tour Guide”, you shouldn’t rely solely on the guide’s opinion. Don’t be afraid to approach students as they are walking around campus, eating in the cafeteria, or sitting on the quad. It can seem intimidating, but these individuals truly are your best source of unbiased information. Ask questions like, “Are you happy here?”, “Have you been impressed with your professors?”, “What did you do last weekend?”, and “If you had it to do all over again, would you choose this school?” If you approach several people and no one is willing to talk to you, then that tells you something, too.
If you’re not able to visit a campus, ask around to see if you know anyone who knows students at the school. Talk to your high school counselor about whether any recent graduates attend the college, and ask if your counselor can put you in touch with those people. Talk to your friends – do they have older siblings, cousins, or friends at the college? Your parents’ friends and colleagues also can be helpful in this pursuit. Once you have someone to contact, start by sending an email, and then, if the person is responsive, ask if you can schedule a phone call or Skype meeting. Prepare a list of questions so you won’t forget to ask about what’s important to you, and take notes during the call.
While technology can be extremely useful in your college search, it’s important to consider other sources of information. Unless you plan to complete your college degree online, it’s crucial to get information from real, live students who attend the colleges you’re considering.