By Beth Anne Spacht
September 14, 2015
Along with the greatly anticipated return of college football and pumpkin-spice-everything to the East Coast, the arrival of September means one very important thing for the faculty and staff at Richmond: students are (finally!) back on campus. As excited as we are for the change of pace, it’s great news for prospective students, too.
That’s because the best way to get the real scoop on any college campus is by asking those who’ve experienced it first-hand. In the college search, it’s tempting to formulate an opinion of a school based on guidebook rankings, online “college insider” forums, or passing impressions from a second cousin’s neighbor’s daughter (you get the idea) who toured the college 20 years ago. The danger here is adding or slashing college options from your list without keeping a keen eye towards fit. The more you know about a university and what it offers YOU academically, socially, and financially, the better informed you will be when it comes time to deciding where to apply.
Our advice is to dig a little deeper in your college search. Here are five tips to help you find reliable insider insight from current students on college campuses:
Visiting campus? Ask to join for lunch. Sometimes this is arranged officially, as in the case of Richmond’s Lunch with a Student program. However, what I’m really suggesting is to find a central dining establishment, walk in, and ask the first group of friendly faces you see if you can dine with them. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself as a prospective student – after all, every college student was one at some point! This can be an awesome, informal way to ask your questions and get unfiltered insight into student life, as well as taste test the food you might be eating for the next four years.
Stop a student for campus directions. Let’s face it. Campus maps aren’t always the most intuitive, and if you’re doing any sort of self-exploration, chances are you might get turned around once or twice. Stopping to ask for directions is actually a great opportunity to kick start a deeper conversation. Start with “where’s the library?” and see if you can transition that into “what’s your favorite part of campus?” You’ll be surprised how easy it is to turn a simple question into a launching pad for greater discussion.
Beware of anonymous online forums. There are tons of online forums out there designed to deliver the inside scoop on student life and admission at College A versus College B – but buyer beware. As with any online forum, you don’t always get an accurate slice of the picture. Contributors tend to lean towards both ends of the spectrum: super enthusiastic about a school, or completely disappointed by everything. Very rarely do you find the in-between perspective where the majority of current students actually fall. Look for transparency and be careful of any online student presences where people are anonymous. If they aren’t willing to sign their name to their comment, you can likely take it with a grain of salt.
Look for official opportunities to connect. Instead of anonymous forums, turn to official accounts. Most college campuses have some sort of social media presence, whether it’s Facebook (ours is University of Richmond), Twitter (@URAdmission), or student blogs chronicling the student experience week-to-week (check out ours at spiderdiaries.richmond.edu, also on Instagram @spider_diaries). The beauty of these forums is the variety of perspectives you can gather. Current students, staff, faculty and alumni alike are engaging on these platforms, so you still get an accurate lens into campus life, but with the added benefit of knowing that it comes from a reputable source. Plus, lots of these accounts are fun to follow!
Ask teachers, friends, or your guidance office. See if are there’s a recent grad, teacher, or connection from your area that either attended or knows about a school in detail. Try to track down someone to talk to who attended or visited within the last 5-7 years. Like most things, campuses can change quite significantly from year to year. You’ll want to gather the freshest perspective you can. Can’t travel to campus? Inquire if there are alumni interviews offered in your area; another great way to connect.
Senior Assistant Director of Admission
A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.
Beth Anne Spacht
Assistant Director of Admission
Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.
The University of Richmond is a highly ranked liberal arts university offering an extraordinary combination of the liberal arts with law, business, leadership studies, and continuing education. The university is consistently named a best value in higher education by leading publications.