Why Visit Campus Before Picking Your Online College?

Why Visit Campus Before Picking Your Online College?

Key Takeaways

  • While virtual college tours can give prospective students a glimpse into a specific college campus, an in-person college visit can uncover much more.
  • The college search traditionally culminates with a college visit, and what better way to get to know a school that by taking the opportunity to explore campus?

Are you planning to go to college online? You have already done an extensive online college search, perhaps even identified the best school for your specific needs, and set up a conducive learning environment with a computer, a good Wifi connection, and a quiet workspace.

You may even have done virtual campus tours along with fellow domestic and international student groups as part of your plans to go to college online. But have you ever considered the reasons why you should visit campus for online college during your college search?

If you haven’t considered making in-person campus tours, then you must consider it on top of an extensive virtual tour! Indeed, there are numerous benefits of visiting the actual campus, whether you’re attending an online college or considering traditional colleges.

Yes, we know that it may seem counterintuitive. After all, you won’t necessarily be living on that campus, or even commuting there for classes. So why bother checking out the grounds if you’ll only be logging in for your classes? We also know that geographical distance can be a barrier, but if the college campus is relatively close by, then you should go for it!

Assuming your online college has a campus, and assuming that campus is relatively close by, there are actually quite a few benefits to visiting first, even if you’ll ultimately be attending classes from your deadbolt-locked home office space. Obviously, this only applies if you’ll be attending an online college directly affiliated with an actual campus.

In fact, online college has become an increasingly local business, says an article from Inside Higher Ed. According to the Online College Students 2019 report from the Learning House, nearly two-thirds of all fully online college students live within 50 miles of the institution where they study. This number is up significantly from fewer than half (42%) of all online students in 2014.

...nearly two-thirds of all fully online college students live within 50 miles of the institution where they study”

One reason for the rising trend, says Inside Higher Ed, is the dramatic expansion in the number of accredited brick-and-mortar schools offering fully online programs. The result is a widening array of options and opportunities closer to home for students living anywhere in the U.S. This means that students who wish to take online classes but who also desire geographical access to their college campus can have the best of both worlds.

Of course, there will always be virtual campus tours because these are an excellent way of becoming acquainted with the actual campus layout and overcoming geographical barriers, if any. There’s also the fact that virtual campus tours are increasingly becoming more realistic, thanks to technological advancements like virtual reality and augmented reality.

If you’d like to attend an online college close to home, jump to our Rankings of American Colleges and Universities By State. You might also be interested in our ranking of the most beautiful college campuses in America.

Otherwise, read on and find out why you might want to visit campus before committing to your online college.

Featured Programs

Determine the Legitimacy and Credibility of the Online College

Prospective students should verify that, indeed, the academic programs offered by online colleges and universities are legitimate! You can see for yourself that, indeed, there’s a physical campus or headquarters (i.e., in the case of fully online colleges without physical campuses).

If the school offers—or claims to offer—beautiful academic buildings, a vibrant culture on campus, and accessible facilities and amenities, then it’s your job to determine that these claims are, indeed, true! Keep in mind that college campuses are beautifully depicted in websites as part of the marketing strategies of colleges and universities. You can determine if, indeed, the existence and quality of the campus layout, facilities, and amenities match the images and descriptions on the website.

Other steps that you can perform to determine the legitimacy and credibility of the online college or university you’re interested in include:

  • Check its accreditation status, such as through accreditation certificates
  • Interact with the faculty and staff members to determine their professional credentials and competence
  • Ask about the student support services, resources and events like workshops, seminars, and even student organizations
  • Look into its financial transparency, including tuition and fees

Basically, undertaking campus tours means conducting due diligence and ensuring that you will be getting quality online education recognized by academia and industries.

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Assess the On-campus Physical Resources

This is in relation to the above-mentioned benefit for prospective students of online programs to make visits to the college campus—the opportunity to make first-hand assessments of the quality of physical resources including the facilities, amenities, and services offered by the college or university. When you visit campus resources, you gain a deeper understanding of its learning environment, too, and the potential benefits you can gain from campus life even when you’re taking classes online.

Here are on-campus physical resources that you should explore because they will be critical to your learning experiences in the future.

  • Physical library and research facilities including databases, books, and journals that will be critical in individual assignments, group projects, and thesis or dissertation
  • Laboratory and technology facilities, including equipment and access granted to online college students, which is of particular importance to students pursuing STEM courses and degrees requiring physical and virtual experimentation
  • Study spaces for when you want a dedicated space for self-study and study groups or a change of environment
  • Student support services, such as writing labs, technology help desks, and writing labs, because of their critical roles in your success as an online student
  • Resources for cultural and social events, health and wellness activities, and extracurricular activities because they can be essential for your overall college experience

If you have special needs in accessibility, you can see for yourself if the college or university has the necessary physical resources required by law in this regard.

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Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities

Even if you will be studying remotely, you should do your best to form personal and professional connections with your fellow students and professors! When you make visits to campus, you establish a strong foundation for networking that will be valuable for mentorship, academic collaborations, and future employment and career advancement opportunities!

Let’s face it—face-to-face interactions can be more engaging than even the best virtual college tour and its related interactions! Plus, face-to-face interactions can set the stage for better virtual interactions in online degree programs.

Once you meet your fellow students, professors, and staff members in your online learning community, it can be easier to strengthen your connection and expand your network via virtual interactions. You can also establish study groups with fellow students that you meet during face-to-face interactions on campus.

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Understand and Tap Into Student Support Services

When you visit campus resources as an interested individual in an online degree program, you will have a better understanding of the student support services the online college offers! You can take better advantage of these student support services, too, than if you only engaged in virtual tours because you actually meet the persons behind them. You can also ask relevant questions and get appropriate answers on the spot than, say, emailing for more information (i.e., takes more time and there’s less of prompt back-and-forth interactions).

Look into these student support services on your visit to campus.

  • Start with the admissions office since it’s your first stop in your online education. Ask for information that isn’t stated on the admissions website, if necessary
  • Financial aid office and its services because you will benefit from getting financial assistance during your online education
  • Academic advising services, particularly meeting the academic advisors, discussing your academic goals, and getting personalized academic guidance
  • Tutoring and academic support services including writing services
  • Career services for a head start on your career-related efforts and alumni network services for networking purposes
  • Mental health counseling services and wellness resources and activities
  • Student organizations and clubs for richer college experiences and a head start on professional organization’s memberships

The bottom line: Getting to know the student support services and the people behind them will boost your success as an online student and, in the future, as a successful professional.

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Explore the Local Opportunities for Employment, Entertainment, and Enrichment

The typical virtual college tours are limited to on-campus facilities, amenities, and resources, and you’ll be missing out on the local scene around the college campus! With in-person visits to campus, you can also explore the local opportunities for employment and entertainment, among other enrichment opportunities. Think of it as expanding your worldview and horizons, too.

Here are more reasons why you should make a visit or two to campus in relation to the local opportunities.

  • Make industry connections and expand your professional network, particularly in cities or regions with robust local industries (e.g., Silicon Valley), through attendance in industry events and clusters
  • Get information on coop programs, internship and practicum opportunities, and local professional organizations that will boost your learning experiences and career advancement
  • Scout the local sites for field trips and visits stated on the program of study of whatever online programs you’re interested in
  • Gain insights into the local job market, learn about the skill requirements of job openings, and perhaps tailor your online education to the job market
  • Gain access to the local resources that will boost your career, such as creative spaces, innovation hubs, and research centers

Furthermore, you can scout the potential residences in the area in case your plans for the future include a relocation, perhaps due to the exciting career advancement opportunities.

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Check the Technology Infrastructure

The overall quality of a virtual college tour can give you an idea of the quality of the technology infrastructure of the online college or university you’re interested in. But even the best virtual college tours have their limitations in terms of making first-hand evaluations of the technology infrastructure—and this is where an in-person college tour can fill in the information gap.

Note, too, that an effective, efficient, and responsive technology infrastructure is vital for meaningful online learning. A fast, stable, and strong Internet connection is only half of it—you must also check out the overall quality of the learning management system and its related online learning technologies (e.g., videoconferencing tools).

Be sure to also check out the computer laboratories, technology support services, and digital security measures (e.g., backup and data recovery, cybersecurity measures), as well as the learning space setup during your in-person visit.

Determine Personal Fit and Comfort

While virtual college tours mean geographical barriers are eliminated, these aren’t an excellent means for determining your personal fit and comfort—your place under the sun, so to speak—in a college campus. Even if you’re an online student, you will want to feel a sense of belonging in a physical campus, too!

You may be the type of person who values face-to-face social interactions to help foster a sense of belonging. A sense of being part of a campus community can boost your commitment to your academic journey.

Indeed, making a self-guided visit to campus or joining a guided campus tour will likely stimulate a strong feeling of being part of a larger community. It may even foster a sense of pride in the school that will remain even after your academic journey has come to an end.

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Get More Information About the Online Programs

The information provided on the college’s website about their programs is limited for many reasons and asking for more information via emails and chats has its limitations, too. You can overcome these limitations with campus visits, thanks to the opportunities for in-person discussions with program administrators, staff members, and faculty members.

You can ask specific questions to gain better insights about aspects of the online programs including:

  • Curriculum and coursework, including the prerequisites and sequence, descriptions and learning outcomes of online courses, perhaps crafting a personalized program of study based on your career goals and personal interests.
  • Delivery methods of the courses and learning materials, such as synchronous or asynchronous online instruction, hybrid courses, and level of flexibility in online access.
  • Assessment procedures, including the grading methods and criteria, the frequency of tests and quizzes, and the types of assignments, projects, and exams.
  • Technology requirements, including specifics on software, hardware, and Internet connectivity.
  • Office hours and availability including access to faculty members through chats, emails, and the like.
  • Faculty expertise including their academic backgrounds, industry experience, and research interests that aren’t usually featured in program websites.

Bottom Line: Face-to-face interactions will likely reveal unique opportunities that aren’t specifically stated on the school’s website or promotion emails from the school. Indeed, face-to-face discussions can usually shed more light and result in more informed decisions about the online degrees you’re interested in.

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Experience Campus Culture

In addition to the practical benefits of seeing the campus firsthand, a visit is a great way to experience the intangibles that give the school its identity.

Spending a day or two exploring the campus and surrounding community can give you a strong sense of the school’s culture, from its diversity and inclusiveness to its political climate and its sense of school spirit. You’ll also get a feel for those features that make the school unique from the popularity of its athletics program to the prominence of its performance arts scene, even the way its students party on the weekends.

Spending a day or two exploring the campus and surrounding community can give you a strong sense of the school's culture from its diversity and inclusiveness to its political climate and its sense of school spirit.”

As an online student, you may not experience these dimensions of the campus culture on a daily basis, but they can tell you a great deal about the school, its student body, and its approach to learning. In other words, visiting before enrolling is a great way to determine whether or not this is a place you can see yourself fitting in, even from afar.

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Talk to Actual Students

We cannot overemphasize the importance of talking to actual students while on campus tours! Current students are the greatest and most under-utilized resource for meaningful and accurate information about the college experience.

If you really want to know what it feels like to be a student at a school, current enrollees have a lot of insight to offer. According to College Tours, visiting campus can allow students to ask questions, meet other prospective students, and understand the college on a deeper level.

Talking to current students can yield answers to questions that you won’t likely find anywhere else, such as:

  • Does the school provide meaningful administrative support to students or will you be constantly dealing with bureaucratic difficulties?
  • Does the school offer adequate services in areas like mental health, or do current students find these services less than satisfactory?
  • What is the process like for getting financial aid assistance?
  • Are students supported in their academic pursuits with open access to professors, tutoring, writing labs, etc?

While you’ll be attending your classes online, you will have to navigate the same policies, procedures and idiosyncrasies as do traditional students. In fact, as a remote student, you may need access to a level of support that students living on campus don’t require.

Visit campus, make friends, and find out everything you can about the day-to-day experiences of students on campus. It could reveal a lot about the day-to-day experiences that you’ll likely have as an online student.

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Meet Advisors and Instructors In Person

There’s nothing like a face to face meeting to get the ball rolling. Schedule a sit-down with your academic advisor to coincide with your campus visit. Take this opportunity to introduce yourself and discuss your academic plans.

This is a great chance to ask any questions you have about course selection, prerequisites for your chosen major, or any specialized opportunities that you might take advantage of as part of your specific degree program. In addition to making sure you’re on the right track, this meeting can help to remove the feelings of isolation and anonymity that can sometimes pose a challenge for online college students.

To the same end, if you’ve already selected your courses, you may also be able to arrange face to face meetings or even just quick introductions with some of your professors. In fact, if you time your visit correctly, you may be able to sit in on a lecture or classroom discussion.

Not only is this a great way to approach your professors for introductions after class, but you’ll get the chance to see them in action. This preview can give you a sense of the tone and energy you can expect from your online instruction.

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Prepare for On-Campus Commitments

Some online programs actually include in-person commitments. Whether you are required to visit campus for exams, presentations, in-person laboratories, or special workshop programs, a number of online degrees include a physical attendance component. If this describes your degree program, you would benefit considerably from visiting your campus before choosing to attend.

A preemptive visit can provide a first-hand look at the facilities where you’ll complete those in-person requirements. And you can consider this visit a test-run for future visits, one in which you learn how to get to, get around, and park on campus. This preliminary experience can prepare you for a seamless visit on the day you have to show up for a timed in-person exam or a scheduled meeting.

Be sure to check out the specifications for the online degree program you are interested in. You might find that you are indeed required to visit campus to fulfill certain credit requirements.

In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, of 1,500 prospective online students surveyed, 75% visited their campus at least once, and that 59% visited anywhere between 3 and 5 times during their education. In other words, the vast majority of online students were either required to, or chose to visit their campus at some point during their education.

By following their lead and making multiple visits to campus, you have the opportunity to:

  • Review the schedules for the in-residence requirements, particularly the dates and times, locations, and activities, which will be useful in making appropriate plans for your travel and accommodations.
  • Familiarize yourself with the campus layout that will be relevant in meeting your in-residence commitments (i.e., get to where you should be on time).
  • Secure and save the contact information of the administrators, faculty and staff members, and other individuals important to your student success.
  • Double-check the required materials and gadgets that must be brought for in-residence activities (e.g., onboarding, thesis defense, and seminars or workshops).
  • Determine the weather conditions and the appropriate attire for the on-campus events.

In short, you will be more prepared to meet on-campus requirements because you’ve done your homework—a campus tour!

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Consider Other Ways to Become a Part of the Campus Community

College campuses have a lot more to offer than just in-person classroom instruction. Most college campuses are thriving communities bursting with support resources, cultural clubs, student-run organizations, study groups, sporting events, community service drives, live performances, and more. As an online student, it is both your right and privilege to take advantage of these opportunities.

While you may be attending classes from home, you could find countless other reasons to drop by your campus. Visit beforehand to see what kind of community you might be joining, and look for the types of activities and opportunities that might await you there.

Of course, before you can start scheduling visits to campus, you’ll want to narrow down your list of options based on the features that matter most to you. To get started on your search for an online school that matches your educational, geographic, and cultural requirements, take a look at our Custom College Rankings tool.

Did you know that there are some online degree programs that you can begin anytime? Find out more about these self-paced online education opportunities.

Get additional tips on finding, applying to, and getting into the best school for you with a look at our College Admissions homepage.

Or find study tips, learning tools, tips for campus life and much more with a look at our Student Resources Headquarters.

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