College Searching in the Midst of a Pandemic

On the weekend of April 4 and 5, one of my best friends and I were supposed to go to New York City and take a tour of one of our top schools: New York University. The tour was scheduled, we had a place to stay, and we were in the process of planning what we wanted to do on the extra day that we were there. However, in just a few weeks, our lifestyle has been turned upside down. In only a few weeks since we booked our tour, over 10,000 people in New York have died. In just a few weeks, a global pandemic struck our country and rearranged the way we do anything.

Of course, there are bigger issues going on, and I don’t want this to sound whiny or ungrateful. People are dying, others are out of work, and healthcare workers are overwhelmed. That is not being overlooked. Regardless, simply because there are bigger fish to fry does not mean we, as a nation, should stop talking about the small issues either. It’s valid for people to be sad about the things they are missing out on or, in this case, stress about the way things are changing.

That being said, the college search process for juniors is drastically different as of right now. Hopefully, the class of 2021 will be able to tour colleges still this upcoming summer, but with colleges being closed right now, tours are cancelled for at least the rest of the school year. Additionally, this time of year is typically filled with college fairs, visits from college admissions, and even more emails and letters for soon-to-be college applicants. The entire dynamic of the way colleges and universities are reaching out and the way students widen their search has now changed, and this may have lasting effects.

Some colleges are advertising “virtual tours.” For example, Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI is sending out emails and letters to students advertising the virtual tour they offer on their website. This virtual tour lets the viewer look around different parts of campus with 360 cameras, along with a recording of a tour guide offering information about the university. While this was already a feature on JWU’s site prior to the outbreak, they are advertising it now more than ever and some other colleges are adding these features to their own websites. Additionally, the internet is the greatest resource for college admissions right now and college admission videos are being advertised much more than usual. With the visual aspect missing from real life, colleges are finding ways to bring this exciting visual aspect to students at home.

College admissions teams are learning a lot from this experience about bigger and better ways to reach students online, and the effects of this time could last longer than one might expect. While everyone will certainly be overjoyed when physical tours are once again available, these virtual tours and online visual appeals will remain useful tools in the future. Especially for international students that don’t have the opportunity to tour their favorite schools in the U.S., these tools will remain in action and could play a strong role in shaping students’ college decisions.

As for what students can do right now, research is even more important than it was before. If you are narrowing down your college list, use these tools to your advantage and visit as many college sites as you can. Additionally, with some things changing for the way college admissions will work for the class of 2021, we need to do what we can to stay on top. Visit college sites, and make sure you show the ones you are interested in that you are interested. Email the admissions officers if you have questions, subscribe to their newsletter, check off that you want to receive updates and information from them. These simple things put your name in their system so that when you do apply, they know that you showed interest far before applying, and you have an advantage. Hopefully, everything will go back to normal soon and students will be able to take college tours, and speak with admissions one on one. Until then, best of luck to everyone in their online college search!

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