Spring Break has traditionally been the time when hordes of high school students can be found in college information sessions, then following backwards-walking student guides across campus, and having meals in dining halls. These visiting students are “trying on” different colleges to see how they fit. But this is 2021, when the lingering effects of the pandemic continue to transform the college tour landscape. In-person tours are limited; schools like Tulane, which is offering live tours, are restricting numbers and following social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. If you do get the opportunity to do an in-person college visit, be sure to also drive around the surrounding neighborhood – and perhaps grab a meal at an outdoor restaurant that students are likely to frequent. Some universities like Lynn University are trying new “drive-through” tours where students and their families stay in their cars and drive through the campus while listening to a narrated tour. And there are tons of virtual options available, including virtual reality tours offered by some colleges.
Whether you’re planning to visit virtually or in person, one thing has not changed: Spring Break of sophomore and junior years is still the ideal time to tour campuses and tweak your college list. Since traveling may not be an option for you now, we recommend using your time over this Spring Break to dive into online opportunities that can provide invaluable information and help you determine if a college is right for you.
Here are a few tips for making the most out of your Spring Break virtual visits (you’ll also find links to several colleges’ tour at the end of this article):
Make a Plan
Review your college list and choose a reasonable number of schools that you will commit to virtually visiting and researching over Spring Break. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too much information, and you still want to have some time for fun and relaxation on your Break, so focusing on 5-6 schools is a good start.
Once you’ve decided on the colleges, visit each school’s admissions page to find out what kind of online tours and events they offer. For instance, the University of Miami offers a virtual information session and tour and also gives you the option to do a self-guided tour on campus. Choose your preferred options for each school and create a calendar so you can keep track of everything you schedule. Make sure to register for each tour/event so you’ll receive reminders and so that the college will have a record of your demonstrated interest. When possible, opt for live, interactive virtual sessions – like Dartmouth’s − that allow you to be there virtually in real time and perhaps even ask questions. That will help you get the most out of the tours.
Take Advantage of Student and Faculty Panels
At the minimum, your visit to each university should include an Information Session in which an admissions counselor gives an overview of the school and a campus tour that allows you to see the academic buildings, residence halls, dining facilities, libraries, student center, athletic fields, and general lifestyle. But don’t stop there. Too often, these sessions and tours begin to overlap and blur together as you visit more and more colleges. You need to seek out information and experiences that will help you distinguish one college from another.
One great way to do that is by participating in the student, faculty, or other featured panels that are being offered online by many schools. For instance, you can sign up for a University of Florida “Student Experience Q&A” or participate in livestream events and faculty conversations at Vanderbilt University. These are typically live sessions where you can hear about students’ personal experiences or learn more about the opportunities available in your academic area of interest.
The whole idea behind these visits is to find those aspects of certain universities that speak to you, that light you up with a desire to attend. As you read this, you may have a high schooler’s vague sense that most colleges and universities are roughly the same – that’s hardly the case! Use this time to keenly observe the differences among them. Many students describe that feeling of knowing they belong when they step foot on a certain campus. If you’re not making those in-person visits, you’re going to have to find other ways to feed that sense of belonging. Remember, getting a strong feeling that a college is not for you is just as helpful as discovering that it is. It can be a relief to scratch a certain school off your list because you’ve learned it’s not for you.
As you attend the virtual visits, do your best to take everything in as if you were there in person. Keep a journal dedicated to your college research and make notes about what stands out to you and any “Aha!” moments along the way. It’s easy to tune out when you’re online, but for these virtual tours, we advise tuning in more and using your best powers of observation to gather details and information that will help you make an informed decision. Does the college offer programs that align with your interests? Can you see yourself on this kind of campus? Do you like the surrounding area the college is located in? Could you imagine yourself as a student in this kind of lifestyle/culture? Here’s a really vital tip: What you learn from careful observation may prove remarkably helpful when you complete a school’s commonly asked college application question, Why do you want to go to our college? If you’ve taken detailed notes about your visits, whether online or virtual, you’ll have much of what you need to easily write these oft-asked essays.
It’s never too early to start demonstrating your interest in the schools that you hope to attend. You can do that by reaching out after your virtual visit to the admissions representative that covers your region. Their names, emails, and designated regions are typically listed on the college’s website. If not, make a phone call to the admissions office for that contact information. Send a brief email introducing yourself and the high school you attend, let the rep know what you especially enjoyed about the presentation, and ask one or two follow-up questions. Make sure to save your email correspondence so you can easily find it (hint: create a folder dedicated to college-related emails) for future communications if necessary, and perhaps use what you learn in your college application essay(s).
More Virtual Visit Links
College visits should be one of the most fun parts of the college application process, so do your best to enjoy your time learning about each campus, even if it is only via a computer screen. If you need more guidance for putting together a college list that fits you and your goals, give us a call.
To get an idea of what some schools are offering or to sign up, here are a few more links for virtual visits: