This article appears in College Prep 2018.

Ideally students will visit the college of their choice in person, but that’s not always possible. Between plane fare, rental cars and hotel stays, visits can get costly. But there are ways to experience a college without leaving home.

Request information

Once a college knows about a prospective student, he or she will be flooded with information.

“Nearly every school has a ‘request for more information’ online form that students and families can complete to receive admissions, financial aid, scholarship and enrollment information,” said David Dollins, associate vice president for enrollment management at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. “Colleges can send a lot of information, so another tip is to set up an email account specifically for your college search so that information is kept separate from your personal account.

This way you can keep track of dates, deadlines and information more easily.”

Take a virtual tour

“Many colleges as well as career schools now offer virtual tours, which enable students to ‘see’ the campus, even if they can’t visit in person,” said Jason Johnson, spokesman for uAspire, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes college access for low-income students.

Make a connection

In addition to virtual tours, “there are often ways for students to talk with current students, including online chats, phone conversations with student ambassadors, email conversations and other social media,” said Karen Moranski, associate vice president for academic programs at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California.

“Utilize social media like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook to connect with the schools you are interested in,” Dollins said.

Read up

Investing in a college book like The Princeton Review or Fiske Guide is a great way to learn about what a college offers, said teen and parent advocate Dana Baker-Williams.

“These name all the colleges and offer a page or two of information” including size, location, quality of academics and data on safety, social life, Greek life and top majors, said Baker-Williams, whose blog is

Mind your budget

“Campus websites often will identify campus partnerships with local hotels offering discounts to prospective students.

Driving trips that combine multiple schools is certainly a more efficient option. Going with other prospective students can allow sharing of travel expenses,” Moranski said.

“Some colleges may offer fly-in programs for prospective students where they will cover the costs of visiting the campus,” Johnson said. Students should call and see if those opportunities exist at the colleges they would like to visit.

Look at the big picture

If a student is struggling to pay for a college visit, it can be a sign of further affordability struggles if he decides to attend that college.

“Problems with being able to afford a trip may be an opportunity to consider the larger picture when it comes to that school,” Johnson said. “Students need to think about how they may need pay for travel back and forth during holidays and between semesters if the dorms close. Not being able to afford to travel home during holiday breaks and between semesters can make the college experience especially difficult for students.”