College tour season is in full swing as tens of thousands of high school students and their parents take advantage of the summer months to visit prospective colleges. This time of year the typical tour size can swell to 50+ visitors, meaning there is less time for questions and individualized attention. On top of that, many families find that colleges’ marketing pitches begin to blur together after a few tours. All too often, families leave a college tour no more informed than before their visit. Below are a few suggestions for smartphone apps that will help you dive deeper than the typical campus tour and get the most out of your college visits.
1) Use AirBnB for your lodging to experience where real students live and play off-campus.
If you are hoping to attend a larger university in an urban area, you likely will not live in on-campus housing for your entire four-year experience. In some cases, you may not even be required to live in dorms during your freshman year. If this is the case for the colleges you are considering, why not experience the college town or city like a college student? Tour guides will showcase a dorm (or two), but rarely if ever will they show you off-campus housing.
Some of the benefits of trying AirBnB:
- You’ll save money. AirBnB has a variety of choices to fit your budget and, chances are, the majority of these options in the young and hip part of town will be cheaper than the 3-star hotel in the middle of the tourist zone.
- You’ll have more opportunities to meet students and hear unfiltered opinions of the campus and area.
- You’ll get to experience the restaurants and nightlife that real students experience at that college.
2) Use Yik Yak to find out what students are talking about on that campus.
This social media app shows anonymous postings from people within a ten mile radius only. It is primarily used by college students to gripe about professors, talk about the previous night’s festivities, or poke fun at a common occurrence on that campus. Often the feed reads like a comedy show full of one-liners. Occasionally students will comment on the culture and social scene of the school. However, people tend to post either really funny or really negative experiences or comments, so take everything you read with a grain of salt. I certainly wouldn’t add or eliminate a college from your list based on what students are saying on Yik Yak, but it can provide some interesting insights into life on that campus while you are there.
Some perspectives you might glean from checking out Yik Yak during your visit:
- How dominant is Greek life for the school’s social culture?
- Are students stressed out about certain majors or classes?
- Is the campus cliquey or do students interact across their majors, racial identities, or socioeconomic backgrounds?
- What is the dynamic between the student body and the administration?
- What is happening on campus tonight (or this weekend)? This will likely yield very different results from a college website which lists school-sanctioned events only.
3) Download the college’s visit app (if they have one).
More and more colleges are entering the application age and are developing their own campus tour apps for Android and iOS. Some apps are fairly simple and include maps and directions for prospective students, while others include a consolidated list of special events and presentations open to the public. Other apps are intended more for students and parents who are unable to visit the campus and feature self-guided tours including interactive photos and videos.
A few of the benefits of utilizing a college’s visit app:
- You won’t get lost (as easily) and you won’t have to try to zoom in on one tiny building on an impossibly small campus map on your phone.
- It can demonstrate how tech-savvy (or not) a college is. At many schools, students and faculty were involved with the app’s development.
If you’re not quite ready to embrace these apps during your next college tour, try to at least supplement your visit with researching that school on social media and through student review sites like Unigo, College Confidential or Niche. The standard campus tour is still essential part of the college research process, but it can be even more effective if combined with the use of social media and apps.