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How to Search for a College While Wearing Your Pajamas

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There was a point in my oldest son’s college search when he was basing his choice on the university’s home football schedule. He spent the summer before his senior year on YouTube watching college football tradition videos and periodically saying “Hey Mom, this is cool – come watch this.” I did, and I learned there is a lot of cool stuff on YouTube. This knowledge was about to come in handy, because his college counselor convinced him that he was the kind of kid who would probably be happier at a smaller school, a realization that changed the direction of his search. It also meant that he had to decide among many colleges that looked pretty much the same on paper.

My son toured schools, went on interviews, visits, and sat in on classes. Yet with all that, what had the biggest impact on his decision? YouTube videos.

You can learn a lot about the culture of a school by what its students upload on YouTube.

Move-In Day Videos

I love to watch “move-in day” videos for colleges. They tell you a lot. For one thing, are the new students glad to be arriving, full of excitement for their future? Or do they act like they are entitled to be there? Does move-in day mark the culmination of their efforts, or the beginning of a new adventure? It’s a subtle difference, but it can make a huge difference in the culture of the school. Plus, as a parent, you can get some good ideas about helping your children pack for college, because their leaving for college is actually going to happen.

Dorm Room Tour Videos

These can be excruciating, but worth it. Campus tours never take you into the worst dorms, but you can bet you’ll find them on YouTube. Also, you can pick up a vibe from the student body from watching dorm tours. What’s on the walls? Greek letters, school spirit posters, rock bands, travel posters? They are all clues to the vibe of the campus.

Campus Tour Videos

YOUniversity is a really good place to get access to tons of campus tours. They aren’t official tours, but they are professionally made. We loved watching these because you can “go” anywhere.

The unofficial tour videos students upload are interesting and informative. We found an unofficial tour video of the college my son is attending, and it was funny, well done, and it showed a campus where everyone seemed to know each other and like each other. A bootleg tour video can show you the campus, but also the people. Are they friendly, polite, well spoken, and happy to be there?

The slick, official video tours are valuable, too, because they tell you what the college thinks is most important and what they think you should know about them. If they are showing you tailgates, kids talking and laughing, and beautiful buildings, that’s one message. If they are emphasizing their history, their prestige, and their tradition, that’s another message. You get to decide which message speaks to you from the comfort of your couch.

Human Interest Videos

College students also post some very funny stuff on YouTube. I’ve seen flash mobs, the party scene, demonstrations, graduation ceremonies, holiday concerts, speakers, actual classes, all kinds of stuff.

The Winning Video

I can tell you the video that made the decision for my son. It was a Holiday Greeting from the admissions department that was a montage of groups of happy students singing Jingle Bell Rock. It had everything from the football team singing in the weight room to – more importantly – a group of beautiful young ladies singing and toasting marshmallows in a fire pit. In the length off a song, he knew that 1. The campus was beautiful. 2. It was in a temperate climate. 3. They weren’t afraid to sing Christmas carols. 4. The students seemed fun and fun to be with.

It was and still is the perfect place for him…and his brother.


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