Why Visit Campus Before Picking Your Online College?

Why Visit Campus Before Picking Your Online College?

Planning to go to college online? There are a few pretty obvious steps you’ll want to take right up front. Of course, you’ll need a computer, a good Wifi connection, and a quiet workspace. And if you have kids, you probably want a deadbolt lock for that quiet workspace. But what else should you consider before making the commitment to an online college?

How about visiting the campus?

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?

Well, 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. It also helps to live relatively close to this campus.

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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 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 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.

If you’d like to attend an online college close to home, jump to our Rankings of American Colleges and Universities By State

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

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.

In fact, U.S. News & World Report says that 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, or chose, to visit their campus at some point during their education. Check out the specifications for your online degree program. You might find that you are indeed required to visit campus to fulfill certain credit requirements.

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.

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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

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. College Tours explains that visiting campus can allow students to ask questions, meet other prospective students, and understand the college on a deeper level.

Look to current students for the type of information you won’t find in the brochure. 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, academic assistance, or financial aid assistance, or do current students find these services less than satisfactory?

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 tell you a lot about the day-to-day experiences you’ll 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 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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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 for a look at the types of activities and opportunities that might await you there.

Of course, before you can start scheduling campus visits, 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.

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