Visiting prospective colleges is great, but let's face the facts: Not everyone has the luxury of being able to take time off from school and work to jet about the country touring various campuses. Don't stress if you simply don't have the time or finances to take such a trip; as long as you have a phone and an Internet connection, you can still get enough information to make an informed decision.
For starters, look at various colleges' promotional packages and material. How does each school identify and market itself? If, for example, a university's mission statement stresses the importance of original research and collaborative learning, and you'd prefer to avoid inquisitive studies and hate group work, you might want to scratch that school off your list.
Also, don't be afraid to reach out and contact a school's admission representatives via phone or e-mail. They should be happy to answer your questions, and since some of them are probably current or former students (many universities offer free or heavily discounted tuition to employees), they may be quite candid in their responses.
While it's always preferable to physically visit a university, it is possible to get a good feeling for a school online. Many colleges' course catalogs are available in PDF format on the university's Web site, so it's easy to see if they have any classes you'd find interesting. You can also look up satellite images of the campus in Google Earth. You'll be able to view a university's layout, building placement and surrounding area. If you're looking for vibrant city life and the campus is surrounded by cow pastures, you probably wouldn't have wanted to waste your time visiting that school anyway. You'll also want to look up the crime statistics of a given school or town to make sure it's a place where you'll feel comfortable and safe for the next four years.
Of course, if you're still not sure, you can always find a university's current students or recent alumni on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Just look for a particular group that's somehow affiliated with the school. Honors societies, sports teams and virtually every other kind of student group and organization should be easily accessible through these sites. In fact, many schools have established official online presences on social networking sites for just such a purpose, so don't hesitate to reach out and ask a few questions. Choosing the right college is extremely important, so be sure to get as much information as possible before making your final decision.