The Virtual College Search
Everyone’s been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in one way or another, but one of the biggest shifts for high school students has been the changes in the college application process. Almost every aspect of the search for the perfect college has changed in some way, but the most glaring involves college visits. Traditionally, students who are interested in a selection of schools usually try to make a trip to visit them. However, in our current outlandish circumstances, students participate in an information session and a virtual tour of the campus, normally led by a student.
Despite the school’s effort to facilitate a virtual touring experience, many students still feel something lacking. Many students and parents are left wondering many questions such as, “What do the students look like?”, “What is the layout of the campus?”, and “What’s the general energy on campus?” Covid has made travel, especially by plane, increasingly difficult. And even those colleges within driving distance are difficult to visit, because many colleges have their own restrictions about who’s allowed on campus. So, if we’re not able to visit schools in person, how are seniors exploring their options and compensating for these limitations?
Since almost all schools are now offering both virtual information sessions and tours, many students try to make the most of these opportunities. Virtual “tours” take different forms from school to school. Some schools do live info sessions and tours, answering questions along the way; and some have pre-recorded information sessions and tours, available on different platforms, like YouTube and YouVisit. The structure of these information sessions ranges, along with how engaging each one is.
In addition to college-run virtual info sessions and tours, social media is also a good way to get a sense of college student life. It’s often difficult to understand the vibe of a college campus without having visited it in person. A simple YouTube search will likely lead to a plethora of videos about student life that may take the form of “a day in the life” at the desired school. It’s always been encouraged to speak to current students at colleges of interest, and this tactic is all the more important and helpful now. While info sessions are beneficial for learning about the academic side of a school, speaking to a student at the school who wasn’t hired by admissions to sell it will often give you more honest answers to questions about anything from academic rigor to Greek life.
While colleges have definitely stepped up their advertising during the pandemic, it’s definitely a challenge to do all of this virtually. A virtual college tour shows you what the buildings and campus look like from the outside, and they often include a map to help give students an idea of where they would be situated on campus. However, some virtual tours don’t even show the insides of buildings, and it’s hard to get a real sense of where you would be “standing” on campus in a virtual tour.
A huge part of live college tours involves looking at everyone walking around and seeing if you would fit in with the student body. This aspect is largely eliminated in virtual tours. Also left out of the virtual experience is seeing the college town itself. This is an important part of a college visit, as the town is presumably where you’ll be spending some of your free time.
Though there are some obvious negatives in this virtual process, there’s a huge positive through all of this: the college search is now far more accessible to many more people who might not have been able to visit schools, even in a normal year. A lot of schools track demonstrated interest, and an important way of expressing this interest can be through visiting the school. With virtual visits, anyone with a device can “visit” a school and express interest this way. Virtual visits also cost nothing and take less time as well. This levels the playing field a bit for people who might not have had access previously to a school’s campus.
The college process seems near impossible at times, and the addition of a pandemic doesn’t put anyone’s mind at ease. However, the speed at which colleges have been able to expand their virtual resources is a promising indicator of how we can adapt our old traditions to fit these unprecedented times.