Updated: Apr 21, 2021
By Kimberly J. Koffi
More Than Just a Tour
This year, because of the pandemic, juniors and seniors have had to adjust their college visit plans. Many colleges have suspended in person visits opting for a myriad of virtual experiences instead. Whether you visit in-person or participate in a virtual event, it is a valuable tool to help you fine tune your college list.
Prior to the pandemic, there were limited ways in which a student could explore the campus virtually. Now, colleges have created many new virtual events expanding opportunities for students to explore, from a distance. For instance, at Penn State University, you can use an app as a tour guide while you walk around the campus. Additionally, they have a list of many virtual events that you can attend to get more information about particular topics that might be of interest to you. These include things such as Explore Penn State Nursing, Ask a Nittany Lion--A Virtual Student Panel, Admissions Information Sessions for International Students with a Student Panel, and Financial Aid Virtual Information Session. Every college has increased virtual opportunities, and there are, also, many that are providing tours in-person. It's important to check the college websites to find out what is being offered and what works best for you.
Attending campus tours, either virtually or in-person, can also show your level of interest to the admissions representatives who will be reviewing your applications. The in-person 40-minute introductory tours can look the same after a while. This may even be true for some virtual tours. A snapshot of various classrooms, a room with a bed and closet, the student union with various food options, and a workout space where one can get some good exercise all start to blend together. Because of this, it is beneficial to do more than sign up for an introductory tour.
Dig a Little Deeper
There are a number of strategies that students can use to dig a little deeper while on campus or through video conferencing. Of course, some will only work if you can come in person, such as going on an overnight, but there are a number of things you can still do in the virtual world. Set up a meeting with academic departments, visit with coaches, talk with current students, and even, sit in on a class, By peeling back the layers, you can better distinguish one campus from another and know if they align with your goals for the next 4 years.
For one young woman, digging deeper made all the difference. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, so she arranged to meet with people in various academic departments where she had some interests. As a result, one college that was on the bottom of her list rose to the top and another, she crossed off completely.
Likewise, a young man was poised to play football during college, so he attended football camps offered to rising juniors and seniors at a number of colleges. This gave him the chance to learn more about the differing coaching philosophies, as well as academic support programs for student athletes, and living and learning communities within the residential halls. Many of these skills camps were cancelled last year, and many are still on hold this spring and summer. But according to the NCAA, students and coaches can connect via email, texts, phone calls, and social media. The NCAA says "It’s now more important than ever for student-athletes to maximize their online presence and to be proactive in starting recruiting conversations with coaches."
How to Make the Connections
Set up a Tour: Begin by going to the college websites. Select Admissions and College Visits. Sign up for a tour either in-person or virtually.
Meet with Students, Faculty, or Coaches Beyond the Tour: Contact the admissions departments directly. Let them know what you want to do or who you want to meet with, and they will direct you to the next step. Some will arrange this for you, while others will provide you with contact information and you can set this up directly.
Summer Programs: Many colleges have links for high school summer programs on their websites. However, not all websites are easy to navigate. The best way to find out if a college offers something of interest to you is to use the search bars on the colleges where you are interested in attending. Search keywords such as summer high school programs. You can also ask the admissions departments who can send you links.
Social Networks: Many students use social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Almost all colleges use these platforms, too, to share current events, special programs, academic distinctions, and other university news. Find your colleges on these social networking sites and explore.
Prepare for Engagement
What to Wear: Wear comfortable clothes and dress for the weather. You will be walking a lot as the admissions team will want to show you as much as they can showcase their school as much as possible.
Take the Lead: Families often attend campus visits together and when you are with your parents, you may be used to letting them take the lead. However, colleges are more interested in getting to know you. Talk with your parents ahead of time to see if they have any questions they want answers to. This is your time to step forward and allow your parents to take a backseat. At the same time, it is great if parents can go on college visits with you. They are great resources for taking the lead on many of the logistics such as getting there and back, arranging accommodations if needed, and driving around the surrounding communities while you look around.
Questions to Ask: Having a few good questions to ask is one way to show your interest in various programs or services on each campus. College Board provides a great checklist for the campus visit which includes some questions that will help you get started.
Take Notes: It is hard to remember what you liked or didn’t like about your campus visit. So take some notes to help you remember. When you start to narrow your list, you will be glad you did.
When to Visit
Timing for college visits varies greatly. Most students go on college visits in the junior year and then may revisit after getting acceptance letters in the spring of the senior year. Colleges have a number of events specifically designed for juniors and seniors, so check the websites for more information about those and make a plan. There are many virtual experiences across campuses that include panel discussions with current students. These are great opportunities to hear directly from students. Whenever in-person visits resume, the best time of the year to go has traditionally been when classes are in session. I still believe this is true today. Have fun!
Kimberly J. Koffi is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Amber Lights Educational Consulting, LLC. She worked as a college counselor and international student advisor for 9 years at a college prep school and for 6 years in a local university as an assistant director for international student and scholar services prior to starting her own business helping families with the college search process.