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Conducting a College Search during Covid-19

Emily Burnett
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Caroline Burnett, John Burnett,

Caroline Burnett and her younger brother John, the summer before her senior year of high school, touring Northwestern University, the college she now attends.

Buzz summer intern Emily Burnett is a rising senior at St. John's School. 

Nearly all college campuses are closed for the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means that, for high school students trying to conduct a college search, everything is virtual. Even though many offer virtual tours, this is still different than actually experiencing an on-campus tour.

Virtual tours make it easier, financially and time-wise, for prospective students to look at more schools. However, only being able to visit schools virtually is challenging for many rising high school seniors. Sarah Fiedorek, a rising senior at St. John’s School, says, “It’s a lot harder because everybody talks about the same things online. You have to base your entire judgement largely off statistics and general ideas about the opportunities the school provides.” 

She is not the only one to feel this way. Lauren Aguilar, also a rising senior at St. John’s School, says, “Though virtual visits do a good job at transmitting information about the college, some of these virtual visits fail to capture the true energy and mindset that exists within the student body, and thus we as students can’t fully understand the campus culture.” 

For many current college students, a visit to campus was one of the most important parts of their decision-making process. My older sister, Caroline Burnett, who just finished her first year at Northwestern University, thought that a campus visit was important in her decision because “the campus was perfect and the place I could see myself most.” During her visit, she also learned a lot about Northwestern, such as the quarter system they use instead of semesters, which also helped her realize that was where she wanted to go.

Similarly, Megan Fisher, a rising sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin, says that visiting college campuses was a “huge factor” in deciding where to apply and, later, where to attend. “When I visited the campus in person, I got a much better feel of the campus. Seeing everyone interact in the college setting was a huge factor for me because I wanted to go to a place where I knew I would be comfortable,” She says. In addition, she thought visiting campuses was helpful because it allowed her to see the surrounding areas, which she says “helped me decide what exactly I was looking for in my college experience.” 

For students applying to colleges this year who cannot visit campuses in person, both Caroline and Megan recommend talking to current students to try and see if a school is a right for you. Megan says that “by hearing their stories and experiences, it can help you get a feel for the school and see if it is a good fit for you.” Additionally, she says, “I would attend all of the information sessions too just to get all of the core information that’s essential in deciding what program you like the best.” 

Many schools are offering ways to ask current students questions, either answering questions during virtual information sessions and tours, through live Q&A sessions, or virtual one-on-one chats with current students.

College counselors at high schools are working to help students adjust to this change. Ms. Natalie Garza, my college counselor at St. John’s School, says, “Campus visits look different now, but students can still gain a lot from virtual offerings. Colleges are creating an unprecedented number of avenues for students to learn about their campuses right now. Virtual options give students the opportunity to learn about myriad campuses in a more concise amount of time.” She advises her students to “take advantage of the plethora of information at their fingertips and attend as many virtual tours, information sessions, and panels as possible in order to become more informed about the schools on their college list.”

Ultimately, though the pandemic has impacted students’ opportunities to visit college campuses, students should take advantage of all the virtual opportunities that normally would not be available to them in order to figure out where is a good fit.

Schools in this article: 

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