A few days ago, I was telling my parents that some of my seniors likely will have to decide which college they’re going to attend without having visited, as the pandemic has upended college visits for the past year. My dad commented that he didn’t visit any colleges before deciding which one to attend, and I would imagine that was true for many people in his generation. In contrast, I visited over a dozen schools before I applied to any, and doing so helped me decide which ones to apply to.
With many colleges still not offering in-person tours, students in the Class of 2021 may have to approach the college decision-making process more like my dad did. The good news is, today’s students have far more resources at their disposal to help them make this decision.
In a previous blog post, I described a variety of ways that students could research colleges without leaving home. In this post, I will focus on how students can dig deeper to get the information that will be most helpful to them in deciding which college to enroll in.
Virtual events for admitted students: In the past, colleges typically offered special visit options for admitted students in the spring. Now, they are offering such options virtually. These may include general information sessions, student panels, and sessions on the individual colleges/schools within a larger university or even on specific majors. If you already attended a general information session, look for opportunities to learn more about the aspects of the college that are most important to you.
Connect with current students: In addition to the virtual events described above, a number of colleges are making it possible for prospective students to talk directly with current students. Some schools have a database that allows you to search for students based on their major, home state, and other factors. Then, you can contact them via email or through a chat platform.
Live Campus Tours: Just about every college is now offering some sort of virtual tour, but the quality of these tours varies widely. Many of my students have complained that after watching a few such tours, they all start to sound and look the same (and that’s often true of in-person tours, too). Live Campus Tours offers personalized, one-on-one virtual tours at over 200 colleges across the country. Although the tours are conducted by current students, the company is not affiliated with any colleges, so the tour guides don’t have to follow a prescribed route or script and can tailor their tours to what prospective students want to see. Additionally, because the tour guides aren’t paid by their college (as many official campus tour guides are), they are more likely to be completely honest in answering students’ questions. Multiple tour guides are available at each school, and on the website, you can see photos of and personal information about each guide (i.e., their major, where they’re from, and the activities they’re involved in), so you can select one whose interests are similar to your own. The tours are $39 each (with discounts for low-income students), which is far less than it would cost to visit an out-of-town college in person.
Induck College Impressions: Although its name is rather strange, the information Induck provides is extremely helpful. Its website features interviews with multiple students at over 175 colleges, each of whom has answered questions about everything from academics to social life to the campus environment. Students are identified by their major, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, extracurricular activities, and where and what type of high school they attended. A $50 one-year subscription is required to access most of the information on the site, but you can view interviews with students at Amherst College for free, so you can get an idea of what they look like. Like Live Campus Tours, Induck is not affiliated with any colleges, so students can be candid in their interviews.
Talk to people you know: As described in my previous blog post, your own network can be a valuable resource when it comes to deciding on a college. If a school you’re considering doesn’t offer the opportunity to chat with current students, ask your friends and relatives if they know anyone who attends or recently graduated from that school. You can also ask your school counselor if any previous graduates of your high school have gone to that college. If you are given contact information for a current student or recent grad, email or text them and ask if you can schedule a time for a phone or video call. Although many teenagers shy away from talking on the phone, you’ll likely find the conversation more helpful than if you communicate via text or email. Even if the person you contact doesn’t share your intended major or interests, they might be able to connect you with someone who does, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Although I had visited all of the colleges I applied to, when it came time to make my final decision, those visits weren’t sufficient. At the time, none of the above online resources existed, so I reached out to people I knew, who were able to connect me with students at each school I was considering. The conversations I had with those students were far more informative than any campus tour I went on, and ultimately, those discussions were what most helped me make a decision.