Nervous Girl With A Question Mark Drawn On Paper Over Her ForeheadIn an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus), colleges across the nation are closing campuses, moving students to virtual learning, and evacuating dormitories. While these closures certainly impact current college students, they also have tremendous implications for high school seniors who are trying to decide where to spend the next four years, as well as for juniors who are in the process of building college application lists. Many prospective students make their decisions after participating in tightly choreographed Admitted Student Days where prospective freshmen can attend classes, speak with professors, spend a night in residence halls, eat in the cafeteria and meet many of their future classmates. In short, these spring visits given a glimpse into what life will really be like on a particular college campus and are often the deciding factor in determining where students will matriculate next fall.

Without the opportunity to attend an Admitted Student’s Day or, even, make one last trip to campus, what’s a high school senior to do? While there is nothing that can truly replicate an in-person college visit, there are many resources students and families can leverage to evaluate colleges remotely. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. College Websites: So, this is obvious, but college websites offer a lot of great information. Go beyond the data you have already researched like the majors they offer and the nuts and bolts of the admissions process to learn more about what life on campus will really be like. Dig into the curriculum requirements and extra-curricular opportunities for your desired major. See what type of learning support services they offer, such as quant labs or free essay editing workshops. Learn about academic advising resources – both those that will help you graduate-  and those that will help you prepare for graduate school and/or a specific career track. Look into student life by reading about school traditions, popular sports teams and on campus clubs and activities. Visualize your life on campus, the activities in which you will participate and the social network of which you will be a part. If you can’t see your life there now, perhaps you should move to the next school on your list.
  2. Virtual Tours: Many colleges offer virtual tours for students who aren’t able to visit campus. For those that don’t, here are a few private companies that offer virtual campus tours, as well:
  3. Campus Newspaper: Get your hands on a copy of the campus newspaper – either a paper or online version. Since the newspaper is run entirely by students for students, it will give you unfiltered access to the hot topics that are enveloping campus (and scandals), a sense of the campus political climate and opinions of students (see the editorial section).
  4. Fiske Guide: Review legitimate third-party reviews of colleges like The Fiske Guide to get an unbiased account of the campus experience. Unlike blogs or sources like College Confidential (which is often biased based on the student’s experience – positive or negative), Fiske takes a measured approach to visit campuses, interview students and faculty and assess campus culture and social life to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly.
  5. College Admissions Offices: The impacts of COVID-19 are changing daily. As a result, many college admissions offices are still figuring out how to navigate this new world. Stay connected to your college admissions offices by following them on social media, reviewing their websites for announcements and remaining in touch with your regional admissions officers. Once a college has admitted you, they want you to attend. They will surely develop a plan to showcase what makes them special and help you decide whether they are the right school for you.
  6. Alumni: Contact your college local alumni chapters to see if you can meet with former students who have had first-hand experience with the colleges in question. This will tell you two things: (1) the level of responsiveness and willingness of alumni to meet with you will indicate how strong the sense of community is and (2) you will gain some insight about what it’s really like to be a student – even if some of the information may be a bit dated.
  7. Your Application: Review your application, particularly your “Why Essay.” Are the attributes that initially appealed to you about this school still valid or has your thinking evolved through your college application process? If you were to restart your college list now, what qualities would dominate your list and which of your college options embodies them most strongly?

The reality is that there are many schools where you will get a great education and will be happy for the next four years. Take the time to do your research and make a sound decision. But rest assured that, whatever decision you make, it will probably be a great one. Happy hunting!

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