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2.24.21 / by Casey Near
As a college counselor in a precedented year, my meetings with juniors right now would include planning spring break campus visits, maybe even one of those full-fledged road trips that’s the stuff of legend. Alas, we’re heading into Year 2 of Unprecedented Times, and we see the ritual of campus visits has mostly ground to a halt coast to coast:
From the University of Southern California:
USC strongly advises against visiting our campuses in order to protect our community and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Admission Center is closed to visitors and we are not currently offering any in-person tours or activities.
To the University of Miami:
On-campus visits have been canceled until further notice. Thank you for your understanding and patience as we prioritize the health and safety of our new and returning students, faculty, and staff for the start of the spring semester. We are disappointed that we will not be able to host you on campus and hope that you will connect with us virtually.
And note, they’re trying to be reeeally polite about it, but they don’t want you “dropping in” and walking around either. Besides, in most cases, you wouldn’t see much but the squirrels and lovely landscaping. Of course, there are exceptions, and, in general, they’re smaller private colleges in smaller communities whose scale already lends them to smaller experiences. For example, in Delaware, Ohio, Ohio Wesleyan University conducts campus tours in groups of one to three families and enters three or four academic buildings—and no residence halls.
But not every high school student is looking for that intimate college feel, so what are that student’s options? PLENTY. From last spring to this winter, admission offices have grown by leaps and bounds in their online offerings. The University of Pennsylvania is an excellent example of that. Sure, there’s a virtual campus tour—a standard offering these days (sometimes live, sometimes recorded), but one glance at their Virtual Visit page, and you’ll find a smorgasbord of online experiences to feast upon. Texas Christian offers outdoor tours (of 10 or fewer people), but complements that with robust virtual options, too. You’ll see this nearly everywhere. Colleges are working hard to bring their experiences to laptops and living rooms throughout the world.
Here at Collegewise, we even put together Reddit, Instagram, and More: How to Research Colleges During Covid-19 to help those students putting together their college lists virtually. Still, what to do about the nagging feeling that campus visits are better somehow for building a list or knowing what you want?
Remember this, a visit delayed is not a visit denied!
If current trends continue, many, if not most, colleges will be welcoming prospective students with (socially distant) open arms starting this late summer and early fall. The student who feels it’s essential to visit campuses to decide on an Early Decision option or whether “cities are my jam” will be able to do that before applications are due this fall. No problem. Furthermore, college visits are often overvalued. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that a rainy day, a cranky tour guide, even a bad meal in a dining hall can easily make a great fit feel like a terrible place to spend four years growing and learning. I’ve seen the opposite happen many times, too.
As my colleague Casey notes in her terrific College Visit Guide, right now, most students are still “browsing”—something that’s also plenty easy to do online. It’s when you’re in “test-drive mode” that the visit truly becomes of value. And as someone prone to FOMO myself, I understand how it might be frustrating to lose out on something that felt like an easy way to understand what kinds of colleges make the most sense for you. But if you spend your time this spring and early summer wisely and ask yourself the right questions, you’ll build a list of colleges that more accurately reflects the kind of person you hope to become and the kind of experience you want to have during your college years. It’s easily and entirely possible! Seniors did it this year, and international students have done it for many years.
And then this fall, when colleges are safely open and life on them is full of more people than squirrels, those test drives are going to be pretty great.
2.17.21 / by Arun Ponnusamy
In my first year as a college counselor, I met a student – let’s call her Kamila – who was adamant about studying medicine, and she shaped her list of colleges based almost exclusively on the reputation of their biology or pre-med programs.
2.10.21 / by Verónica Leyva