College visits always hold an air of uncertainty and excitement—an anxiousness that fills you as you seek out a place to call home
for the next four years. But there also thrives a sense of joy, an elevation of optimism that perhaps THIS is the right choice. Whatever the outcome after a college visit, the trip itself tends to be typical: the standard preview and tour, with questions at the end. Yet, with a past year of uncertainty that continues, college visits during COVID-19 have been dramatically impacted.
On-campus visits may not be feasible, but even with virtual experiences being the only option, an understanding of the social and academic feeling of a possible college can still be achieved. I believe there are two key aspects to a successful college visit: asking the right questions and being honest with yourself. And taking into context the current pandemic, it is still possible to fulfill both steps with a little extra effort and outsourcing on your part.
To begin with, while most universities have increased efforts to provide more virtual resources to potential students, you may still have to take the initiative and reach out directly to get your questions answered.
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When reaching out, explore the university’s website first to learn a little bit about its organization and gain a sense of what is emphasized, such as sports or a specific area of study. The website will not reveal everything, but it can provide a broad overview and answer some basic questions. Questions such as, How many clubs and organizations there are?
or Which majors are offered?
, and whether you can create your own major.
Furthermore, due to the restricted access to campuses, many colleges now host a plethora of virtual tours and videos of their campus and/ or organizations online—both the college website, as well as affiliated social media platforms. The videos, while not synonymous with being present physically, can provide more insight than pictures alone. While these options don’t host the same opportunities as an in-person visit might, they can still help paint a general idea of what campus life and academics is like at a certain college.
After exploring the university’s website, seek out specific offices to get answers to more direct questions. For instance, reaching out to the financial aid office directly can put you in contact with a financial aid counselor much more quickly than just leaving a general inquiry. This is especially effective at larger universities where there are a larger number of applicants and interested students.
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Overall, the university's website, social media platforms, and reaching out directly to varying offices can provide a better sense of what a potential school is like, and how well it fits your needs and wants.
Despite these virtual resources though, it can still be difficult to gain an effective understanding of your potential choices. As previously mentioned, two key steps can make both virtual and in-person experiences more valuable and productive to your college search and decisions.
Ask the Right Questions
The first step is asking the right questions.
It’s easy to get carried away and lose focus amid the excess of information suddenly yielded. One way to help prepare for this is by writing down the questions you want to ask beforehand. I recommend categorizing your questions into the following three groups.
Question Group 1:
These are the broader questions that can relate to multiple universities. They can be about campus life and academics such as the popular majors or clubs, or these questions can be about the school’s location and its benefits. And since they are general enough to ask them to any college, this list can remain constant to every visit.
These should be questions that directly relate to the university you are visiting/researching. They can be about a specific dorm hall or a popular study abroad program. Again, this question group can contain some inquiries that apply to more than one university but strive to make them as specific as possible.
Your third question group should consist of questions that establish a relationship between you as a student - financially, academically, and socially- and the university.
In other words, these questions should assist in resolving any specific concerns or doubts you may have about the school. For instance, see if you can meet with a financial aid counselor to discuss aid options and scholarships that relate to your financial situation personally. Or perhaps the dorm life is not for you, so ask about commuting options.
These questions should establish a firmer understanding between yourself and the college you are considering, and help you discover how well suited the campus is for you.
Be Honest with Yourself
The bright side about virtual visits is that you can take as much time as you need to gather this information. While an in-person visit may seem rushed and hectic, being online can make the experience and information easier to process.
Furthermore, the second key step to ensure an effective virtual-visit experience is honesty. An external force will always exist that influences your decisions in some positive or negative manner.
It’s nearly impossible to make a decision solely based on your own perspective and emotions, but when it comes to choosing a college to attend, it’s crucial to sort these external influences and identify how they are impacting your choice. There may be that one school all your high school friends are deciding to attend, or there may be your dream school that offered you admission, but not much else in regard to financial aid. There might be the safety school that's providing a considerate amount of aid, but perhaps not the prestige or sense of home.
If you planned right, and perhaps with some luck, you may end up with an ideal choice that meets nearly all your criteria! While this is not impossible and is certainly achievable with planning ahead, if you do find yourself in a situation with convoluted choices, it is essential to be honest with yourself.
Three Key Aspects to Consider
There are three key aspects to take into consideration when choosing a college: the financial
, and academic
It might feel simpler to overlook one group in favor of another, but ultimately, you must consider the consequences of your decision not only in the present but for the next four years. Right now, you may not be too worried about your financial situation, but student loans that previously seemed acceptable can become daunting in the future.
The choice ultimately lies to you, but it’s essential to consider all three factors and analyze how you feel about a specific university in all three of them.
The pandemic, while perhaps taking away the thrill of on-campus visits for some, has nonetheless allowed for other opportunities to explore your college choices in greater depth. While virtual experiences cannot wholly replicate being on-campus in-person, it can give you some sense of what the university academic and social life hosts, as well as give you further options to have specific questions answered. Before going on any college visit, create your list of questions, and be honest with yourself and your choices.