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Finding Your Best College Fit During Coronavirus

Amy Romm Lockard


In the wake of COVID-19, many high schoolers are left wondering how to stay on track with their college search.

From high school seniors who must commit to a college by May 1 (or in the case of some schools a newly extended date of June 1) to sophomores and juniors who were gearing up for a spring break full of college visits, the virus could not have come at a worse time.

Without the option to visit college campuses, students must now be extra scrappy in their pursuit of finding the colleges that “fit” them, figuring out from a distance whether they prefer a small, medium or large student body; in or out of state school; and much more.

Lucky for them, a bounty of online resources exist to aid their college exploration. Here are some of my best ideas for how all high schoolers can make a meaningful campus visit from the comfort of their living rooms and, ultimately, ascertain fit.

Tour the Campus

Many students are mourning the cancellation of their late winter and spring college visits. I am in the same boat, having cancelled my own scheduled college tours, but let me share some additional perspective.

Every year, a fair number of students never get to visit the college they choose prior to depositing and attending. For a variety of reasons, from lack of resources to unexpected obligations, these students aren't able to visit a campus in person yet they still, ultimately, choose a college.

Online resources are a huge help, allowing students to visit colleges virtually, feel as though they are experiencing the campus, and get a sense of lay-out and community.

Treat these virtual visits with the same enthusiasm you would have applied to a traditional campus tour. Dress up! Set out some snacks! Gather your family around a laptop or smart TV. Websites like YouVisit, Campus Tours and eCampus Tours allow you to search for the colleges you’re interested in and take free, virtual campus tours, some of which include a tour guide who tells you all about the college and community.

Take your time on tour, pausing to appreciate the scenery and making notes of anything that stands out to you. When your tour is over, discuss your impressions together as a family.

Attend the Info Session

In place of their regularly scheduled information sessions, some colleges are offering alternatives for prospective students and families.

Visit the Undergraduate Admissions pages of the colleges you’re interested in to see what the school has made available. For example, the University of Washington is scheduling appointments with their admission counselors by Zoom and phone and offering online info sessions for all prospective students and their families. The university is also bringing current tour guides online for prospective students to chat with.

The bulk of information shared during a college’s info session is also typically available on its website, so I suggest students start there. Find your academic departments of interest and look at their required and elective course offerings. Search these departmental sites for student outcomes, research/internship/co-op opportunities, clubs and anything else related to the majors you’re considering.

Does the department have a philosophy as to how it teaches students within its major? How many professors teach in this department and who are they? Really take your time and explore the Academic section of the site to ascertain what a typical student’s classroom experience may be like.

Student Life is another useful section for prospective students. Here, you'll find information on student organizations including clubs and athletics, study abroad programs, faith and other culture-based communities, and weeknight and weekend campus activities such as lectures, movies and open mic nights.

As you visit these subpages, check to see if any of the student life offerings that interest you have their own website. The French Club, for instance, may have its own page where you can see how often the club meets and the activities it sponsors. The page may also include photos of members enjoying their time together.

Students who may need access to support services should also comb college websites for information on what supports each different college can provide them. Students in search of support options include first generation, students of color, international students, LGBTQ+, dietary restrictions, learning differences, mental health differences, physical differences, and others.

If you believe you would benefit from accessing a support service while in college, check to see if the service you are interested in has its own, dedicated office as well as which services that office provides, the hours that office is open, the qualifications of those who staff it, and what additional costs or restrictions are associated with its services.

A typical college information session would also cover a college’s cost of attendance. To learn about student expenses, including tuition, room and board, visit the Financial Aid section of a college’s website to view the full cost of attendance for freshmen. Read up on scholarships you may be eligible for and how to apply for them.

You can also search this section for a net price calculator which will allow you to estimate the amount of financial aid you could possibly receive from the school.

Assess the Culture

It can be difficult to get a feeling for the personality of the student body when you cannot set foot on campus.

That said, we live in a time where identity and socialization are largely documented online. In the absence of campus visits, I turn to a few, key online resources to help me understand the culture of a college’s students as well as the culture of the school at large.

YouTube is one of my favorite websites for college exploration. Most colleges have their own YouTube channel while some also feature a YouTube channel specifically run by their Undergraduate Admissions Office.

These channels feature all sorts of information-rich videos centering on student life, academic happenings, social justice and more. Get an insider’s peek into student dorm rooms, follow students as they go through a typical day, and watch lectures from visiting speakers.

Student-run news stations and written publications are tasked with documenting the latest happenings on campus, from new construction to exciting events to campus wide initiatives. You may also find articles that feature topics not likely discussed on campus tours, such as safety on campus and any tension in the relationship between students and administration.

I’d be remiss not to include social media! Most colleges utilize their social media channels, particularly Instagram and Facebook, to market to prospective students.

Be sure to follow your colleges of interest on your social media accounts. Watch their stories in full, read their posts, and click their links. You can get a sense of what a college is about by the students and campus offerings it chooses to highlight. Like their posts, click the links they direct you to, and take your time reading the information they choose to bring to your attention.

Some colleges track how long you spend on their website and which pages you access, and, while this is not the practice of the majority of schools, it is also fair to say that it doesn’t hurt you either way to spend just five minutes on a college’s site taking in as much information as you can.

Q&A

In the absence of the live Q&A portions of your Info Session and Walking Tour, you still have many resources available to answer lingering questions.

The best place to start is by searching the college’s website. Additionally, sites like CollegeData and BigFuture can help you gather statistics and information that are relatively straightforward, such as freshman retention rate and the racial and ethnic breakdown of the student body, while Unigo and Niche feature college reviews written by students and alumni.

If your question is more nuanced, you may want to connect with someone who attends or works at the college. Admissions reps are checking their email and are available to assist you. Their contact information will be available on the Undergraduate Admissions portion of the college’s website.

Should you wish to connect with someone outside of Admissions, utilize social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to search for current students or alumni of the schools that interest you. Reach out via the contact information provided in their profile and politely ask if they are available for a face-to-face conversation with you via FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget that high school guidance counselors and college admission consultants are some of your most knowledgeable, willing and available resources!

Founder of Dovetail College Consulting, Amy Romm Lockard is a trusted college admission expert who helps students identify their best fits in careers, colleges and other post-secondary options. A former school counselor, college counselor and teacher, Amy advises students of all personalities, backgrounds, identities and needs. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest and loves to hear from readers. Visit her website at www.dovetailcollegeconsulting.com or e-mail her at [email protected]
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