By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

“Live Q&A with Brown Admission and a Current Student, Big Future Days, NACAC Virtual College Fairs, Furman Virtual College Visit.”

This language has become the new normal for the “College Visit.” The past year has created an explosion of virtual visit options. While nothing can replace the experience of stepping foot on a campus, these new options have made visiting colleges much easier and more accessible. Students can do a live tour right from the comfort of their own bedroom. They can “meet” one-on-one via Zoom with admissions counselors, students, even faculty. While eating breakfast, they can attend a panel discussion or webinar and learn about a school’s values, offerings, and opportunities. 

Needless to say, this is a different way to see and experience colleges than what we were used to only a short time ago. The rite of passage of visiting colleges over spring break came to a screeching halt last March, and what constitutes a “college visit” may never be the same.

That said, might it be possible that the in-person visit will soon return? 

Slowly but surely, colleges are beginning to announce new in-person options. Many are starting with admitted seniors. They recognize the value of getting these students on their campuses, and students want to see a school before committing to it for four years. Colleges are well aware that these admitted-student events can be a valuable tool in recruiting students to choose their school.

For juniors, too, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Some campuses are actually open for small groups of visitors and for formal tours. More are currently only open for drive-bys or self-guided tours. Some, however, remain closed to visitors entirely, in an effort to keep their Covid bubbles safe from outsiders. But more and more are saying they plan to be open to visitors later this summer and this fall, so be sure to keep an eye out for updates. Always check policies on visits before making a trip. It would be a shame to take a long drive to find the gates are locked to visitors. 

For sophomores, we are likely still a ways away from large coliseums and gymnasiums filled with folding tables and hundreds of admissions reps ready to field your questions. Yet, virtual college fairs abound. BigFuture Days | College Board and NACAC Virtual College Fairs are two examples. These are great ways to cast a wide net, begin the process, and get acquainted with several schools in a short period. You won’t get the depth of knowledge you’ll get from a college-specific tour or information session, but you will get an introduction. Indeed, there is one benefit that the past year has brought: colleges are now much better at virtual events, there are many more available, and they are likely here to stay. For sophomores, this is a boon, since it may be too early in your college process to actually hit the road for in-person college tours. The virtual event is an ideal low-stakes way to familiarize yourself with a range of schools.

Like any good researcher, it’s important to do your homework. You never want to make a decision based on one source. You want to gather information from a multitude of sources before establishing your opinion on whether a school is a good fit for you. This could include college fairs, virtual or in-person visits to colleges, or third-party sites such as Campus Reel or YouVisit. You’ll also want to follow schools’ social media accounts, including their admissions accounts and those of specific clubs or organizations that pertain to your interests. Social media is a great way to get the flavor of a school’s culture or campus vibe.

Once you begin to narrow your list, go further. Talk to a professor in a department you’re interested in. Visit a class. Talk to current students or recent alumni. Your regional admissions counselor who covers your territory is also a great resource. Feel free to email them with specific questions. Most admissions counselors are still not traveling, so they’re available and eager to talk to you! 

In the end, while in-person college tours have been closed for about a year, an abundance of options now exist to visit and engage with schools. Take a look at all of these options, and pick a starting point that makes sense for you. There are so many great colleges out there, many of which may be well suited for you. Who knows what you might discover?