My College:
High School

Making Virtual College Visits (Almost) as Good as the Real Thing

Guest Contributor

Visiting colleges has been a rite of passage for high school students. Campus tours give students and their families a way to see if schools really reflect those glossy brochures that landed in their mailboxes.

With COVID-19, that’s all changed.

Now students have to do all their information-gathering without leaving their homes. Still, there are ways students can leverage their virtual visits to make them almost as good as the real thing. And with virtual tours, you and your student aren't limited by time or budget. You can tour as many campuses as you like! This is a great way for your sophomore or junior to begin the college search process, and for your senior to narrow down their final list.

Make the Most of Virtual Tours

A prerecorded virtual tour will give you a sense of what a campus looks and feels like, but don’t stop there. Some schools are offering live virtual information sessions, student panels and tours.

Live experiences provide a chance to ask questions in real time. Encourage your student to sit down for a session with questions ready or jot down a question or two while they’re watching a presentation and then ask those questions when there's an opportunity for discussion.

Connect with Your Admissions Officer

Just because you can’t meet in person doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Your student can check the college’s website for the name and email address of the admission officer, counselor or representative who recruits for their high school area and then send that person a question or two.

They should be authentic rather than asking a question just for the sake of asking a question. Maybe they want to know how to find out more about the school’s computer science program, or they’re wondering if a high school statistics or calculus class is a better choice for the major they'd like to pursue in college. Or they could ask if there's a current student from your area or in a specific major or who shares an interest who they might talk to.

Your student should scour the school’s website first so they can demonstrate that their questions go beyond what can be found online. In addition to getting their questions answered, reaching out in this way has another advantage — it shows your student's interest in the school. While not all schools use demonstrated interested as a criteria for admission, knowing who checked in personally helps admissions staff predict who's likely to accept their offers of admission.

Look to Outside Sources

There all kinds of sites where people post opinions about particular schools. Your student should search those out but remember they don’t represent the whole student body and may run either overly negative or overly positive. Instead, your student should use these posts as a starting point for crafting questions to ask when they get the chance.

Focus on the Positives

Instead of lamenting about not being able to visit colleges, focus on what you and your student can do. You can research schools without having all the variables that might taint an in-person visit — you visited on a holiday weekend when students were out of town, making the campus seem quieter than usual; your toured during a snowstorm and were too busy thinking about how wet and cold you were to take everything in; or your student was simply in a cranky mood that day and just wasn't going to like anything.

With virtual visits, you can review information more objectively. And if you’re not in a great mood, you can check out the school on a day when you’re better able to focus. Remember, just stepping on campus and “feeling like you belong” isn't always the best way of assessing whether a school is right for you. Your student needs to weigh a whole list of more tangible considerations, like course offerings, extracurricular opportunities and cost. All of that is easier to look at objectively if your student isn't floating on an emotional cloud.

Know that people have gone to unfamiliar schools and thrived.

In a perfect world, an in-person campus visit is a great tool in helping select a college — but it is far from the only tool. There are plenty of reasons prospective students may never visit a college before moving in freshman year. If the school is at a distance, many families can’t afford the expense of a trip. For many foreign students, college visits just aren’t part of the process. And many, many of these students go on to have great experiences at their colleges.

Think of it this way. A student planning to study abroad doesn't fly to all the possible destinations to figure which place is best. Instead, they do their due diligence, take a leap of faith and then set off on a big adventure.

Stephanie Kennedy is a college search and selection expert with My College Planning Team in the Chicago area. 
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