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researchCollege visits are wonderful opportunities to get to know schools better. After years of planning for college, it is exciting to step foot on campus and get a sense of what college life is like. But college visits can also be overwhelming. Students know that deciding on a college is one of the most important decisions that they will make, and it can be hard to know what questions to ask once s/he is on campus. Doing some online research on the colleges beforehand can help focus a student so that s/he can get more out of his/her college visit. By finding out basic facts about schools ahead of time, students figure out what they want to know more about, and can ask thoughtful questions about the college once they arrive. Read on for more on what students should research before they visit colleges.

Go to the colleges’ prospective student websites

College admissions office websites are great for finding basic information about the school. How big is it? Where is it located? Which majors are offered? Is the school a liberal arts college or a major research university? What is the average profile of an admitted student? How many students go on to graduate? What does tuition cost? Does it have sports teams? Does it offer study-abroad programs? Students can find out all sorts of information about a school from college websites, which can help them formulate more in-depth questions for the visit.

Students can also use such information to narrow down their lists if they already know what they want. For example, if a student wants to attend a small school, a quick glance at the school’s website can let him or her know the size of the student body. If a student has his or her heart set on majoring in engineering and school doesn’t have such a major, it is better to know before traveling across the country. If a student wants to take seminars as a freshman but the school only offers huge lectures, s/he should know this before planning a visit.

Go beyond the college admissions office websites

In addition to websites, students should check out the websites for current students. Often colleges present different categories of college life. Prospective applicants should explore as many as they can. Student life, academics, and campus news are some of the categories that students might wish to explore. Students can also look for information about study-abroad programs, extracurricular activities, student organizations, internship opportunities, sports teams, and Greek life.

Students should also check out the websites of departments where they might pursue their majors. There, they can see the courses the department offers, the major’s requirements, and which professors have expertise in the studies they want to pursue. By doing this research beforehand, students will have a better sense of what they want to know more about.

Check out social media

School pages on Facebook, twitter, tumbler, instagram, etc. can alert students to special events that they might not have known about otherwise. These pages can help students gain a sense of what the school is most proud of, and they can then ask more about these events and special opportunities once they arrive on campus.

Knowledge is power

Use online research to prepare a list of thoughtful questions ahead of time. What do we mean by thoughtful questions? Thoughtful questions are those that can have more than one answer (Do you like the college? Why or why not?).

Answers to questions like “does X university have an economics department?” or “does the Y school have study-abroad programs?” are easy to find online. On the other hand, college websites won’t necessarily answer more open-ended questions, such as: “which professors in the economics department are the most interesting?” or “which classes are likely to fill up first?”

Most importantly, websites can’t replace asking about current students’ experiences, and they can’t answer questions specific to prospective students’ unique situations. These are questions that potential applicants should ask while visiting campus.

By doing some basic research before going on college visits, students can assess which schools meet their most important criteria, learn facts about the campus, and figure out what they want to explore and learn more about while they are on campus.

And here’s a bonus: by familiarizing themselves with some of the campus offerings before they arrive on campus, students will demonstrate their interest in the colleges they visit.

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