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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

The College Visit: Corona Style

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Note to reader...I originally wrote this post in March of 2020. Regretfully, many of the strategies I suggested then are still useful today. On the bright side, colleges have risen to the challenge of providing virtual resources. This article provides additional tips.

college research

High school seniors are dealing with an unfair share of missed celebratory moments this year. Hopefully, college acceptance letters brought back a little spark of joy. But what should you do if you were counting on that spring break college trip to help you make your final choice?

I'm sure you know the answer...the internet! Thanks to social distancing, the virtual world has exploded in the past year. In fact, even if you weren't planning on a campus visit, it is well worth the time to check out what colleges are doing in this age of digital information sharing.

Virtual College Opportunities

Virtual campus tours were gaining traction as options for those unable to do an in-person campus visit Before Corona (hereafter B.C.).

YouVisit, CampusTours, YOUniversity, and CampusReel are great virtual tool resources. CampusReel is from an actual student's perspective, so it offers the “beyond the brochure” view. The colleges themselves have added all sorts of virtual engagement options to their own websites such as live information webinars and virtual tours. The College Visit pages are rampant with new opportunities for virtual engagement, as colleges vie for the attention of prospective students. Many provide direct access to current students through information sessions and online chats. The University of Arizona features weekly Instagram Wildcat takeovers when current students share their stories. Ursinus has Fellow Fridays, a day when prospective students can connect with a senior student. Prospective and admitted student days are primarily online and access to college admissions counselors via one-on-one counselor meetings has never been greater. Others offer coach visits, department-specific overviews and student perspectives, opportunities to speak with faculty in your area of interest, or even attend an online class. Check out this resource list of colleges with YouTube Channels, or virtual tours, virtual information sessions, and admitted student days. New offerings come online daily, so check the college-specific website, your application portal, and your email for updates. Never has there been more online access to college information. Plus, admissions officers are home by their phones, if you have questions, just call them! Beyond the Official Campus Perspective College-sponsored events, whether online or in-person, will always strive to show their best side. The nuances about a college are learned through informal observations.

Are the kids walking around with their noses pointed at their phones or are they tossing frisbees in the quad? What conversations do you overhear? Are they chatting about their evening plans or stressing about a particular class? How stressed are the kids in the cafeteria? Does Friday night involve trivia or a pub crawl? These kinds of interactions are difficult to replicate virtually, but there are ways to get this sort of insight. Now is the time for your internet-savvy kiddos to put their skills to use online to get a feel for the campus. Start with the college’s website. Look at their campus or student life pages and search for college traditions. Compare the vibe you get from spring traditions like goat yoga (apparently goats walking on your back is therapeutic) vs. campus streaking and fountain skinny dipping (The Fiske Guide also provides insight into college campus life). Use Social Media The college’s official social channels provide some perspective but try to find the unofficial view as well. Students can start by exploring the college’s clubs and organizations on its website (again, search by student or campus life). Then go to their favorite social media channels like TikTok or Instagram. They can search by college name and a club that caught their interest. They’ll find posts by students. Another insider perspective can be found by searching YouTube by college name and “a day in the life.” A cautionary note, some discretion must be taken given that these are public social accounts. The College Newspaper

Search the college name and campus newspaper for another great way to get a sense of what’s going on campus, giving insight into the type of campus events and student concerns/opinions you’d encounter there. Look at multiple editions to get a sense of the “vibe.” Check to see if there is a site for the area near the college where you can explore local news (be sure to look at stories from earlier in the year, as it’s all COVID-19 right now!). The Course Catalog More difficult to evaluate online is the classroom experience. Students can learn a lot by digging into department or program pages on a college website. Search for a list of course offerings or a course catalog. Students can explore the list of classes they will likely be taking and the professors teaching the courses. The faculty are typically listed both on the department pages online and in the course catalog. Read the faculty bios. They often have their own personal websites linking to their body of work. Then head on over Ratemyprofessors. This article gives some in-depth steps. The faculty pages can also provide some insight into the diversity on campus. Is there a balance between men and women professors, or do you notice a difference in certain departments? What about ethnic background? The hiring practices of a college provide a looking glass into the campus culture. Work Your Network The best way to get a feel for a college from afar is to talk to students who currently attend the college or have attended recently. Search for alumni associations online and reach out to those who live in your area. Students can ask their high school counselors if they can recommend previous graduates who currently attend or have attended the colleges you are considering. Also, counselors across the country have been crowdsourcing lists of students who attend colleges and are willing to talk to high school students about their experiences. The College T was created to connect high school students with current or recent college graduates. Or even better, contact your regional representative of the college and ask if they can connect you with current students from your area. Kids from the PNW may bring a different perspective than teens originally from another region of the country and might be able to address issues of concern and interest to you.

Safety Concerns Parents may be concerned about the safety and security on campuses -- a subject often covered during on-campus visits. The Clery Act can help you out. Each college is required to report statistics on-campus crime and safety policies. Search the Department of Education’s database for the most recent three-year statistics by institution for incidents of theft, sexual assault, harassment, and more. If what you see gives you pause or you’d like context, reach out to the college.

COVID on Campus

Keep track of the challenges faced by different college campuses and how they are handling them. Inside Higher Ed provides live news updates on Coronavirus in higher ed. Higher Ed Dive tracks how colleges are responding on a range of issues from online learning to financial considerations.

Online Learning Given the uncertainty of our times, a look at how the colleges you are considering have handled online learning for their current students might be helpful. Search the college’s website using keywords like Current Students Remote Learning. Read about how students have transitioned to online classes and what their experience is like now that they've been doing it for several months. When you speak to students from the college, ask them specifically how they have found the remote learning experience. How have lab classes been handled? What are the performance and practicum class requirements? Ask them how things have changed since the beginning of the year -- has the college been responsive to students' needs? Do they feel engaged? Heard? Supported? Answers to these questions provide insight into the character of the college -- regardless of the learning environment come fall. Take your college research to a new level using the resources at your fingertips, be creative in your exploration and reach out to your community. Online access to college resources has never been greater.


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