One ritual that many families undertake each year is the trek to visit college campuses so that students can see for themselves what they like and don’t like, and can start to really imagine themselves as a college student on a particular campus.
The Great Pandemic of 2020 upended that ritual, at least for the time being. But some really good changes have come out of this situation as everyone, including colleges, have learned to PIVOT.
The good news is that college have really dedicated their time and resources to bring their colleges to students virtually, and many have reported that the benefit is that even more students can engage with them in meaningful ways.
Here are of my top 6 tips for getting the most out of an online college visit
Before you even go online, do some basic research to find out what the admit rate is, the average academic profile of accepted students, the graduation rate, student:faculty ratio, class sizes, how many freshman live on campus, overall size of the undergraduate student population, whether the university is public or private, estimated cost of attendance, how generous they are with need-based or merit-based aid, how diverse the student body is, and where it’s located. Just even getting an overview of these basic facts can help you to understand more about the college you might be interested in. Find a way to keep all this information organized – are you a spreadsheet kind of person? Do you like lists? I suggest writing it down so that you don’t forget – after awhile the colleges start to blur together.
Now go on the website of the college itself. Notice how the website is laid out – colleges will of course look different online, but they all have the basics – about us, a mission statement, admissions, financial aid, academic departments, student life, etc. Become familiar with how to navigate a college website. Lost? Use the search toolbar when you can’t find something!
Next is the admissions page. There the admissions office will lay out a welcome message and have multiple links to find out how to apply, who makes up their team, and financial aid. This is also where you will find information about such topics as virtual tours, online info sessions, how to contact your admissions rep, other social media links, and more. Subscribe to them! This year admissions offices have made it easier than ever to connect with them, other students, and sometimes even professors. So be sure to really become familiar with it!
Do you have a particular academic interest? Find out how the website is organized – is it by “school” or “college”? Major? Departments? Start poking around and reading – I always find this to be really fascinating. Are there any classes you’d love to take? A professor whose writing fascinates you? A special library where you could imagine yourself curled up to study? Do they have any special programs? Can you see examples of student research or projects? Don’t rush this part of the exploration – after all, this is about YOU, and you should find this fun to investigate.
Student Life usually has its own section of the website. Here you can learn all about the various organizations, clubs, and activities on campus. Often this is where you can find out about residential life as well. Where do students live? What kinds of dorms do they have? Where do students eat? What do they have to say about the food? Once this pandemic is over, you will want to know more about what “normal” campus life is like.
Special programs or offerings like study abroad, internships, career counseling, labs, first-year experiences, programs within majors, experiential learning opportunities – all of these are going to be on a website. You just might need to poke around to find them.
What should you do with all this information? I highly recommend that you find a system that works for you. I repeat – if you think you will remember it all, that might work for the first couple of colleges. But after seeing multiple schools, they all start to run together and it’s hard to remember what makes each one unique.
Now here’s a pro tip: When you actually go to apply to a college, MANY colleges will ask some form of the “why us” question to be sure that you are a serious applicant. If you have taken good notes at the outset of this process, you can go back and refer to them to help you craft that essay. Trust me on this one – if you do this, you will save yourself HOURS of work down the road.
While everyone would love to get out and walk the campus of every college they are interested in, even in the best of times that’s not always possible. So make the most of your online college visits and enjoy the experience!