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Normally, spring brings a few reliable things to college campuses: greenery, sunshine, flip-flops, and large groups of high school students and their parents on tours. With the spread of COVID-19 and resulting campus closures, however, those groups are nowhere to be found, and the people who would have populated them are left scrambling for alternatives.
While nothing can replace the feeling of actually walking around a lively, active campus, there are still some things that you can do to learn about what life is like on college campuses and get a feel for being there. Here, we've compiled a list of the best virtual options for touring college campuses and learning more about student life.
There are two major sites for finding virtual college tours: YouVisit and CampusTours. Both offer ways to see campuses, hear from students, and learn more about the schools. As you "visit," keep in mind all the factors that matter most to you about choosing a school.
YouVisit offers virtual tours of more than 600 colleges in the United States. Many of these tours are compatible with virtual reality headsets, should you own one, or you can just use the 360° feature on your computer or other device. YouVisit tours also include prerecorded student guides to walk you through the tour (as well as translations in English, Spanish, and Mandarin), and most tours offer space to ask questions of college administrators.
CampusTours offers virtual tours of nearly 2,000 schools in the United States and around the world. Most tours include fine-tuned search features, from student population to tuition costs, that allow "visitors" to find the most relevant schools. You can click through most of the virtual tours on this site, allowing you to complete them at your own pace. The site is also working to incorporate a feature enabling students to ask questions directly of college officials through the tour, although most schools do not currently have a live connection to admissions.
Also, be sure to check the undergraduate admissions page of the colleges on your list to see if they are offering any additional resources. Many schools have added some kind of live virtual information sessions in the form of video conferencing or webinars, and more are developing similar programming every week.
It's annoying, for sure, but routinely checking these sites will ensure that you're ready to take advantage of any opportunity to prove your interest in a school.
While many college fairs that normally occur at high schools and summer programs have of course been cancelled, StriveScan is offering virtual college fairs to replace them. By registering for a panel, you can hear directly from admissions officers and ask questions. After registering, you will receive a unique Zoom link to attend the live session. These sessions are scheduled a few weeks at a time, but they are likely to continue so long as campuses are closed. If you missed a school, check back in a couple weeks!
Remember, whether it's at a fair or an information session, don't ask questions that you can easily find on the school's website or in U.S. News and World Report. Our advice for asking questions at these sessions is pretty similar to what we advise asking about in an interview. Use it as an opportunity to learn what the school is really like, not to delve into minutiae.
There are also some additional resources that may be useful to you as you research schools. While anything compiled from student surveys or opinions is not exactly scientific, these sites all provide an inside look into what students like—and don't like—about life on their campus.
eCampus Tours does offers college tours (as the name suggests), but it also includes ample specific information about different campuses, targeted at both students and parents. If you're still looking to understand what you want in a campus, there are various resources on here that will be useful in getting started with that process of discovery.
Campus Reel provides a platform for current students to upload (properly vetted) images and videos about their experiences. Parents and students must register to view them. While many of these aren't officially sanctioned by college admissions offices, they're a great way to hear from real students about life on campus.
Finally, YoUniversity brings together student surveys to provide information about life on campus. Users can look for campuses with the best food, the coolest dorms, the most active Greek life, and so on. None of this is official, but if certain aspects of campus life are particularly important to you, it's worth checking out.
In addition to researching schools yourself, right now it's important to keep up with the latest news about how coronavirus is affecting college admissions trends. It's also worth checking Inside Higher Ed, where you can find updates about individual schools' policies as they're announced. Then, read about how these changes will affect you, particularly if you're a junior planning to apply next year.
Beyond that, the National Association for College Admissions Consulting is providing detailed updates about how different colleges are responding to the coronavirus emergency. If you're wondering about how a school is handling admissions events, standardized tests, third-quarter grades, and more, check out their database.
As you navigate the even-more-challenging-than-usual process of exploring and evaluating colleges, you will inevitably find yourself frustrated that you can't be on campus. The tours will glitch; the person running the informational webinar won't get to your question; you'll never shake the feeling that you're still in your living room. But when that happens, don't despair.
The truth is that even visiting in person is an imperfect way of learning about a college. It might be pouring rain, or your tour guide might be underwhelming. Scheduling often prevents families from visiting until the summer, when there aren't many students around. Furthermore, visiting for a few hours can only give you a partial view of what life would be like on campus. While different in many ways, online tours at least share certain failings with in-person ones.
So, do what you can to visit virtually, and remind yourself that even if you could be there, you'd still have to do the online research to learn more about the school. Don't let the small things bother you! Learn what you can from the virtual opportunities, take good notes, and trust that over time the picture will become clearer and you'll find the perfect school for you!