When Alison Tatham looked at potential universities for her daughters, she noticed that one key part of student life was missing: tour guides provided lots of information about the school and the students, but not much about the towns where the schools were based.

Each college town was different, Tatham said, and the diversity both intrigued and confused her.

“Going to the towns was like traveling around the world,” said Tatham, an Australia native who moved to the United States six years ago. “It was like going from state to state, or country to country.”

Tatham created TheCollegeTourist.com, a site that provides a platform for students to share the best aspects of their college town.

Launched last month, College Tourist is currently hosting The Million Postcard Project, where students can upload a virtual postcard to serve as a snapshot of their town.

College is often the first time students are living away from home, and so the atmosphere of a school’s location is important, Tatham said.

As any college student can tell you, collegiate life goes beyond the campus boundaries.

“We thought there was a niche market of prospective students wanting this information,” Tatham said. “What is there to do? What do you like about the town? What does the town have to offer you?”

With College Tourist, students can ask these questions and get answers from those from primary sources.

“When my daughters and I were looking at colleges we couldn’t find local knowledge,” Tatham said. “We really wanted information from those in the town.”

For students going to school across the country (or even just across town), moving can be a daunting experience.

Faiz Siddiqui, a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, knew next to nothing about his college town before he moved from Ohio.

“I knew that it was a city in Nebraska, and that it was close to the only other city in Nebraska (Omaha), which I also knew very little about,” Siddiqui said.

On the College Tourist site, students answer questions about their favorite places to eat, hang out and shop.

They can also upload photos of themselves in their towns, which provides a better visual impact than a promotional poster.

One postcard, submitted by a student from Emerson College, shows a photo of three girls holding cups of bubble tea. Town: Boston, Mass. Weekend hotspot: Bubble Tea in Chinatown.

For Siddiqui, seeing the town where he would live for at least four years helped with his decision, he said.

“When I came to Lincoln, and saw that it was an actual city, with actual people and businesses and coffee houses and whatnot, I felt a little more at ease with the fact that I was going to school in Nebraska,” Siddiqui said.

Does the town around your campus play a big role in your collegiate life?

Paige Cornwell is a Spring 2012 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent. Learn more about her here.

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