Ryan Lytle

These five websites can help a student during the college search process

Before a high school student makes any definitive college decisions, experts recommend they visit campuses first. Stepping foot on the physical campus can help prospective students gauge the makeup of the student body, the environment, academic opportunities, and many other factors. Now, thanks to the growth of social media and technology, students can learn a lot of this information without leaving the comforts of their own homes. Here are five online resources that reveal more about what college life is really like.

1. eCampusTours:

Stepping foot on a campus may be the best way to get a true feel for a college, but eCampusTours gives the student the next best option from the convenience of the couch. The site provides 360-degree virtual tours of college campuses and surrounding areas for the user to explore -- at no cost. At this time, there are more than 1,300 virtual tours available on the site.

2. YourCampus360:

Much like the previous site, YourCampus360 allows students to explore a campus using 360-degree functionality. While this site fails to provide as many college tour options, it does offer more social opportunities, such as providing prospective students with insights and images through blogs and photo galleries posted by current and former students.

3. College Prowler:

Save the graduation rate and questions about course offerings for the college website. College Prowler provides answers to the questions many prospective students want to know, such as the quality of the dining hall food, whether a school has a good night life, and many other non-academic interests. Access the school of your choosing and find myriad topics rated on a grading scale, based on the input of students who have attended the college.

4. YouTube EDU:

The world's leader in user-generated videos offers prospective students the opportunity to view videos created at universities nationwide. Users have the chance to watch student interviews, discussions with professors, and may even find some classroom lectures.

5. Rate My Professors:

Once enrolled, students will be spending a lot of time in the classroom, but it is difficult to gauge an entire faculty based on a single college visit. Rate My Professors fills that void. The site offers ratings on thousands of professors across the country, grading them based on helpfulness, clarity, ease, and overall quality. Be sure to reserve some judgments as many students may not give the friendliest of ratings or may be influenced by the marks they received in the class, but the site can be helpful when used more broadly.

For those looking for even more in-depth information and analysis, the U.S. News Best Colleges section offers exclusive rankings and research on 1,400 schools to help students find the perfect fit.

While online resources like the ones featured above can help a prospective college student learn more about a university, ideally, they should only be used as complements, not replacements, for physical campus visits.

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