Websites, online photos do not compare to value of physically visiting colleges

Growing up, my best friend’s family incorporated college visits into all of their vacations.

Wherever they went, they made a point to visit at least one university in the area. Although this may have had something to do with their obsession with college football, by the time we were 11, my best friend had toured over 20 colleges spread throughout the country.

On the flip side, my family had never been as enthusiastic about looking at colleges, which may have had something to do with the fact that my parents went to college in the ‘60s.

That is, until two months before senior year started and we were suddenly swept into complete college mode. And I had not a clue where to start.

By that time, my best friend had already composed her list of colleges to apply to and finished over half of all her applications.

Once my parents got a whiff of my best friend’s progress, they decided it was time to plan our first official family college visit, which I reluctantly agreed to.

I had seen plenty of schools online, via virtual tours, and could not fathom how a school could be any different in person. Pictures speak a thousand words, after all.

And pictures are exactly what made me fall for a university in my hometown of New York City.

I ferociously researched the entire website of the school, determining that I was destined to go there, finding out everything and anything possible about the school.

So I decided I would go on the trip, just to prove my parents wrong. I wanted to show them my opinion of the school could not possibly change due to a measly tour and information session. Who needs to walk around the campus when an aerial view can be seen from behind a computer screen?

We scheduled our first college visit in New York City, and soon enough we were on I-95 heading north.

Ever since I was young, I always envisioned myself back in Manhattan as a college student, strolling the streets of my old East 57th Street neighborhood with a coffee in hand and a book bag on my shoulder.

But as I climbed the steps to the big, looming school headquarters on West 67th street, I could no longer see myself living in New York City as a student. All I could see was dirty, littered cement.

And, just like that, I abandoned the idea.

From there, I decided I would just keep it simple and go to a Virginia school. Not too close to home, but not too far either. It seemed like the perfect idea.

I could see myself in the Virginia mountains, studying in the library while looking out at the picturesque landscape- those same Virginia mountains showcased on the school’s website.

I rushed to get my early action application in, imagining the beautiful Virginia countryside in the fall.

In celebration of my application submission, and at the urging of my parents, I decided to visit the school I applied to.

Right when I got there I could not wait to leave. In actuality, all I could see was a conjunction of Wal-Marts and fast food joints.

I even regretted submitting my application.

Slowly, it dawned on me that every single website had fooled me. No virtual tour or slideshow was anything close to the real thing.

I realized my parents were right.

Yet again, I began the search for my future college. This time I was determined to visit the campus before I even began working on the application.

This determination took me 4,826 miles away from home to Honolulu, Hawaii.

I found a school there and decided I would have to visit if I had any intention of ever attending, which I did. After all, I wouldn’t want to commit to the school only to discover it was not for me.

So, I flew to Hawaii.

Print editor Charlotte Smith poses at The Kahala hotel where she stayed while visiting colleges in Hawaii.
Print editor Charlotte Smith poses at The Kahala hotel she stayed  atwhile visiting colleges in Hawaii.

I spent hours touring the school, getting more excited about it with each passing minute. The campus was easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen, surrounded by the Pacific and enclosed by mountains. I could see myself there in a heartbeat.

In visiting the campus, I discovered that it had everything I wanted out of a school and more.

I also discovered that the school website pictures simply did not do it justice.

A college website can only show you so much.

To really get a feel for the college, you need to visit.

Trust me, no matter how far you have to travel, it will be worth the visit. After all, you will potentially spend four years of your life there.