College Research and Coronavirus Uncertainty

The college admissions process can be stressful and uncertain, and unfortunately this year the COVID-19 virus is adding to that uncertainty.  Seniors are waiting on the last round of admission offers, and many are considering additional visits to make their final decisions by May 1.  This is normally peak season for juniors to visit schools they’re considering applying to, and many sophomores and freshmen are planning tours as well. But when colleges are canceling admitted student events and campus tours, and even moving all of their classes online, what resources do you have to continue your research over the next few weeks and months?

We often talk about institutional priorities in admissions, and the top priority of every institution is keeping its community safe. This should be your top priority as well but beyond that, here’s some advice on managing your college search and decision process under these unusual circumstances.

  • Follow the most current advice of public health officials regarding travel, avoiding large gatherings, and social distancing. High school students appear to be at low risk of getting sick, but everyone should take steps to prevent transmitting germs.
  • Keep in contact with admissions offices for up-to-date information on their plans for accepted student visits, information sessions, campus tours, and classes.
  • Ask about alternatives to in-person events, such as virtual tours, or check YouTube or sites like Campus Reel and YOUniversityTV.
  • Take advantage of local events, such as information sessions in your region and meetings college reps are scheduling at your high school.
  • Consider attending college fairs locally, but be prepared for these to be canceled as the public health recommendations shift. (As of this post, NACAC fairs have been canceled through March 22; check here for updates.) If you go, take appropriate precautions such as thorough hand-washing and limiting physical contact with others.  College reps will be doing the same and will understand if you choose not to shake hands.
  • Request virtual meetings with people who can answer your questions: admissions staff, faculty, current students, recent alumni, and other members of the campus community.
  • Ask your school counselor, friends and family to connect you with current students or recent alumni at the schools you’re considering. For alumni, the more recent, the better, since academic offerings and campus cultures change over time.
  • Read the campus newspaper online, including past issues. Most college newspapers are student-run and the articles will give you a sense of what the buzz is on campus.  You may want to go back a month, or even a semester, to get an impression of what campus life is like in “normal” times.
  • Review social media posts about specific colleges, but also consider the source. As you know, there’s a lot of unreliable information online.
  • Plan ahead and block out time for future visits. Public health recommendations will change, so be available for summer and fall visit opportunities. Check your 2020-21 school calendar and block out dates that you could travel when restrictions are lifted.
  • If you’re a junior with unexpected time on your hands due to cancellations of your travel or extracurricular activities (or school!), this is a great time to get started on the Common App.  Any profile information, educational history and activities you enter now will roll over when the Class of 2021 cycle starts on August 1.  Be aware, however, that colleges you put on your list and recommenders you invite will not transfer to the new cycle.  You can also work on the Coalition App now, and everything you enter will remain in your profile until it’s time to apply.