Summer is usually a time for thousands of families to traverse across the country to visit college campuses. Whether they are “exposure” trips for underclassmen, carefully crafted coast-to-coast itineraries before finalizing a college list, families intend to cover a lot of ground. I had about 10 college tours planned myself before COVID-19 shut them all down. Here at GRAND Fit Educational Consulting, we stress the college visit to determine if a school is a Natural fit. Students (and their parents) need to feel comfortable on the campus since it will be their home for the next 4 (or more) years. It is also a significant investment to make sight unseen.
While some colleges are re-opening and some are resuming tours, like Elon, High Point, and Converse, most are not. I am not advocating for or encouraging in-person visits at this time. If you choose to, please check directly with the institution, and confirm that you can travel safely to the area. The colleges have announced their tour will be very different. Gone are the days of 20+ person groups and 100+ person information sessions. Many of the schools resuming tours are doing individual ones or small groups. Some colleges are not allowing students to enter “high touch” areas, like residence halls or recreation centers, and most are still encouraging virtual visiting. But how do you approach a virtual visit? If colleges are the ones creating the videos, how can we ensure they are an accurate representation of the school? What are other resources out there?
If COVID-19 has done one thing well, it’s the volume of new admissions information that has been released. Before the shutdown, colleges didn’t utilize technology at the level they are now. If we were lucky, we would have a few hype videos on YouTube or a YouVisit virtual campus tour. Now we not only have general information sessions but virtual student panels, individual department presentations, and one-on-one Zoom calls with an admissions counselor. Some are pre-recorded information sessions, while others are live Q&A webinars. I even “toured” one school where a student strapped a Go-Pro camera to their backpack and walked around campus.
The best place to find these resources is directly through the institution. Check their admissions and visit pages, YouTube channels, and social media profiles. Start with an information session (either general or specific to your major), and then take a virtual tour. After the virtual tour, pull up a map of the college and surrounding town. Look at pictures of the city and check out what is nearby (like grocery stores, restaurants, things to do, etc.).
Virtual College Fairs
If you are just beginning the search process, check out a virtual fair. Many organizations have come together to host events. One of the first was StriveScan. They hosted a College Exploration Week in April and quickly added one for STEM schools and another for Colleges that Change Lives. They had over 500 colleges participate in almost 400 presentations, all of which are available to view online.
Similarly, Cialfo hosted two weekends: one for International Students/Schools and the other for US Schools/Students. Each school features an information session and a video tour. The schools also did topical presentations, such as “Tackling the Dreaded College Essay,” “Develop a Standout Portfolio” “International student services at US Universities,” and “Jobs of the Future.” Hundreds of colleges participated over the two weekends, and colleges are sorted by geographic region. You can search for a specific topic or university, or browse through all presentations to see what catches your eye.
Finally, GoToCollegeFairs hosted 3 days of information sessions with experts in admissions from all sides of the desk. 24 presentations are archived for students to watch, covering topics like test prep, earning college credit now, accessibility and disability services, and choosing a best-fit college. No individual colleges are featured, but the presentations were valuable.
If you prefer to attend a live event, check these out:
NACAC: September 13, October 12, November 8
Additionally, I encourage my families to use, even those able to visit, are Unigo and Niche. I like to think these are like Yelp, but for colleges. Both provide opportunities for students to leave reviews of their institution and rank things like academics, diversity, athletics, residence/student life, food, safety, etc. Unigo has a section where students can answer specific questions like “Describe the students at your school,” “What would you consider the worst thing about your school, and why?” and “What’s unique about your campus?” I encourage my students to pick a few questions and look up the answers for ALL of the schools on their list. I also remind them that these sites are entirely subjective and to pay attention to the number of responses that make up a ranking.
Hopefully, it will be safe to travel to colleges soon, well before your student needs to commit to an institution. In the meantime, I wish you the best on your virtual visits!