High school seniors had likely already visited the colleges and universities they were thinking of attending before the COVID-19 pandemic made campus tours and open houses an impossibility. They’d likely already applied – it was just a matter of making the final decision.
But high school juniors were just getting started, so how do they do a college search and prepare to apply when there’s a pandemic? We’ve figured out a lot in this COVID-19 life, and the college search can be figured out, too.
Katie Lesko, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at Saint Rose, offers 10 tips.
1. Look at the bright side. While you won’t smell the freshly cut grass and get to notice how well college tour guides can walk backwards while pointing out landmarks, virtual visits mean you can tour a college on your time (and without jumping in the car). And you can do it on your time. Extra bonus: Virtual visits are like TikTok. See what you want to see and move on. To get everything online, colleges have had to boil the “visits” down to what’s most important and will tell you the most about who they are as a campus. Also, dig deep into college search tools you may already have started using, like Naviance, Cappex, or RaiseMe.
2. Glad you’re looking at the bright side, because you’re going to have to make a lot of visits. “You will have to engage in three virtual visits to make up for what you would have seen in one day,” Lesko says. While you might have been able to attend three panels in an afternoon on campus, you’ll have to Zoom into multiple sessions offered at various times in order to hear from faculty, from current students, and from admissions and financial aid professionals. But at least you can do it in your sweatpants, so …
3. So what are you waiting for? “Give yourself small goals,” Lesko says. “If you were thinking about visiting a college over spring break or over the summer, by June 30, go on five virtual visits. Then start to write your college essay.”
4. Look for virtual visits that involve students. What makes a virtual tour better? Having a session where a current student takes you through it live on Zoom. That way, it’s not just a self-guided experience of the same campus, where it’s hard to decide what the important stops are. Look for virtual tours, where a student tour guide is still leading the way and you can ask questions in real time.
5. You’ll find the vibe in a different way. There’s something to be said for stepping on a campus and picking up the “feel.” But you can get a sense of the campus by looking at colleges’ social media profiles. Through the photos and videos they post, you can tell a lot about the mix of students, the types of clubs and activities, and the things that matter most to the institution. See a huge day of volunteerism where everyone’s in matching shirts and helping out in the community? That’s a college that might be just right for your community-minded self. Even the student fashion choices in day-to-day photos hint at the on-campus vibe. Bonus tip: Subscribe to a college’s YouTube channel, and you’ll learn a ton.
6. You can still talk to people. Schedule a phone call or a Zoom session with an admissions counselor. (They’re extroverts, and they’re really missing that face-to-face interaction with people, trust us.) You can also message a current student on social media and ask them your questions, or use LinkedIn to find an alum who graduated in the program you’re interested in. Chances are, they are happy to answer your questions.
7. Worried about your application? Don’t. Normally, admissions counselors would be talking to you about clubs and activities, but guess what? Helping a sibling with their online ELA assignment or babysitting so that your parent can take an important conference call is: 1. Volunteerism. 2. Getting you bonus points the next time you have to ask your mom for something. Helping to care for family or your household are valuable life skills and personal development, so add them to the activities section of your application because they matter.
8. Stressed over grades? A college will get to look at your early high school years and three solid quarters of your junior year, and that’s likely enough. If a college asks for your first-quarter grades from your senior year, they were probably going to ask anyway to strengthen your application.
9. But what about the SAT/ACT? Some colleges, like Saint Rose, have been test-optional for years because they believe there are better, more equitable ways to evaluate students for admission. The pandemic has led other colleges and universities that normally ask for test scores to waive those requirements. But if you reeeeaaalllly wanted to take the SAT, don’t sweat it. They’re figuring it out, and you’ll have that opportunity, in some form, soon.
10. The things that always mattered still matter. The way you visit a college might look a little different right now, but that doesn’t mean what you’re looking for should change. “Academics get you in, social fit keeps you there,” Lesko says. “Focusing on both of those is important.”