Ordinarily, spring is a popular time for high schoolers to pursue college visits. But with the Covid-19 outbreak closing or significantly limiting access to universities, those typical college visits are mostly impossible this season. Strong executive function skills which require nimbleness and flexibility as well as contingency planning and focused “future glasses” will be of great value during these rapidly changing times. Fortunately, prospective applicants can learn a lot about colleges through other sorts of college admissions research. Below are some ways to explore colleges when physical visits are canceled.
Set time goals
While many college admissions trips involve visiting lots of schools in just a few days, that speed is hard for students to replicate at home without a cheerful tour guide to direct them. Set goals that make it easier to approach your virtual college visits and to digest information — exploring one to three schools per day, or spending no more than two hours per day on college admissions research.
Set content goals
If your family had already identified certain college visits to prioritize this spring if possible, your child can use that list to begin their college research at home. If your child has not yet started any lists, we can certainly help. We also suggest making use of online resources to search for a combination of two or three appealing attributes — for instance, small liberal arts colleges in the northeast — and exploring the results. The U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges’ feature labeled “Students Also Applied To,” near the bottom of a college’s profile, is a good tool for building lists of schools similar to each other.
Make checklists and keep notes
Comparing colleges is easier if students gather the same points of information about each of them. To stay consistent in their college admissions research and virtual college visits, students can create a digital checklist or spreadsheet to fill in as they work. Some universal items are student population size, location, average SAT or ACT scores, and interesting majors or departments. Applicants can also add personalized items, such as relevant extracurriculars, study abroad opportunities, and special programs. Below the checklist, or in an additional spreadsheet column, students should make notes on anything else they want to remember.
Use Google to find solid sources
While every college’s website has a search function, it’s often faster to use Google to find content on those websites. In addition to schools’ own pages, the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges site, referenced above, is a reliable source. Hint: for hard-to-find statistics, such as average test scores, try googling the name of the school plus the phrase “admitted class profile.”
Zoom in through a virtual tour
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram — admissions offices maintain a presence on all of them. We recommend taking the virtual tour that each school offers and reading their online lookbooks in addition to any opportunities for online information sessions or virtual open house events. We also recommend seeking out content that shares students’ voices, such as an admissions blog, Instagram stories, and student newspapers and magazines.
One-on-one conversations are often the most impactful way for a prospective student to learn about a college. If your child has any acquaintances or relatives who attend a college that interests your child, this is a great time to ask the older student to chat about their impressions of the school.
Zoom out to the Common Application essay
When your child needs a break from researching individual colleges, they can brainstorm an essay for the Common Application, which streamlines the process of applying to multiple schools. While students must wait until August for the application form to open and for colleges to post their supplemental essay prompts, the Common App has already posted the prompts for the main essay, which is sent to all schools. Writers typically go through several drafts of this essay, so getting an early start will help their summer and fall go smoothly.
Finally, we want to acknowledge that no matter how central college visits were to your original spring plans, families have bigger concerns right now. While teenagers are experts at staying digitally connected, they will still miss their friends and their school routines. If college admissions research seems to be too much for your child right now, encourage them to press pause. The first deadlines are several months away. The top priority right now is what also should be their guiding principle when they eventually choose what college to attend: their happiness and well-being.
In these uncertain times, rest assured that your well-being and safety remain our highest priority. Everyone’s concerns are understandable and real. If we can help in any way over the coming weeks with e-tutoring or supplemental college counseling, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We sincerely hope that you and your loved ones get through this situation as well as possible and that we will be able to return to a reasonable amount of normalcy soon.