College search during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted on March 25th, 2020 to College Admission by

I have written several articles about how to go about starting your college search process. There is a post about campus visits, crafting your college list, and a 4-part series on how to get started. While all of the advice is good and sound, if I do say so myself, it was not written with a global pandemic in mind. It certainly was not written from the view point of being immersed in a global health crisis that requires people to stay in groups smaller than 10, maintain a 6 foot radius from other people, and generally just stay home. So I would like to correct that. I want to offer you some guidance on what steps you can take during this time of physical distancing and social isolation.



Before I jump into my advice I want to first call this situation what it is. It is awful! It is terrible for anybody who has gotten sick and needs medical help. It is also terrible for those who are healthy because we cannot do the things we love with the ones we love. This situation also creates a considerable amount of uncertainty in your life, which is also awful to deal with. I want you to know that if you are feeling worried, or anxious, or depressed there are resources out there for you. Please talk with a trusted adult, call your doctor, or check with your local/state websites for resources to aid with emotional support. If you are privileged to have health care, most health insurance companies provide mental health resources too–so check with your family’s insurance company.



Ok, let’s talk college search. So in all honesty, much of the advice I have given via other posts on this blog is still relevant. There are a handful of components of your overall strategy that will need to change, and one of them is a big one. First we will address what is changing, then I will discuss how to adjust, and last I will share what components of your strategy remain the same. So what needs to change? Campus visits in all forms will need to be set aside for the moment. Almost every college at this point is suspending any and all on-campus admission programming. This includes campus tours, interviews, information sessions, open houses, and so on. Additionally, colleges are suspending their staff travel. This means that all high school visits and college fairs are on hold until further notice. Suspension of these programs and activities aligns with the current Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines; it also responds to the fact that many, if not most at this point, colleges and universities have completely closed down. They have sent students home, asking them to engage with their classes through distance and remote learning platforms.



You Have Options!

I know the immediate response to this news is, “ok Evan, what do I do now then?” The answer is simple, don’t visit. However, just because you cannot physically visit a campus does not mean you cannot experience the school. A lot of colleges still offer a virtual tour option on their website. I admit that this kind of thing is a little out of vogue–it was a hot addition to any admission website back in the early 2000s, but now we don’t hear as much about it. Outside of the virtual tour option, schools spend considerable sums of money these days hiring photographers and videographers to stroll around campus collecting beautiful images and high quality footage that is then used all over their website. While certainly this artwork is highly filtered–meaning you won’t find one ugly image of campus, one unhappy student, or one dis-engaged faculty member–it will still give you a sense of what the environment is like. Another simple adjustment you can take is to use email as a way to begin a conversation with an admission officer. While you won’t get the in-person touch like at a college fair or information session, it’s a medium that allows for you to engage in a conversation via distance. Don’t have questions to ask or not sure how to begin a conversation, here’s a template you can try:

Dear admission office/admission counselor/Mr/Mrs. Smith,

How are you today? I have begun searching for colleges and it looks like yours offers a lot of what I’m looking for. I’ve heard from my counselor/parents/college counselor that I should talk with you more about your school. To be honest I’m not really sure where to begin because I am new to all of this. I appreciate any help or guidance you can offer.


Jane Doe

So while this may not be your writing style or voice, I think you get the general idea. Sometimes just acknowledging what it is you don’t know is a great place to start a conversation. Recipients of this kind of note will admire your strength in being vulnerable. They will also quickly come to your aid and help you understand the value they can provide to you on your journey.



Maintain Your Game Plan!

So while campus visit opportunities are the most glaring element to change in your college search journey they aren’t alone. There are a handful of other components which are very much in flux–meaning that their defined role is now as fluid as the pandemic itself. Let’s take a closer look:

      • Standardized test prep: While it is true that the College Board and ACT are “moving” test dates in order to respond to the required social distancing. Many colleges are also quickly becoming test optional in an effort to support students during this confusing and difficult time. However, at this point I think it wise to continue moving forward as if standardized tests will still be required. So keep up your test preparation efforts. Use Khan academy, test preparation books, and, if using a tutor, move to a distance tutoring arrangement (video chat, email, etc.).
      • Stay focused on school work: Many high schools have moved to distance learning platforms. I imagine that many colleges will by sympathetic to some downward trends in grades, but that is not an excuse to ease off your efforts. If anything distance learning, because it is a new experience, will be very challenging–so double down on your efforts. See if you can maintain your grades or even get them to move up a point or two.
      • Stay involved with your community: As schools and organizations cancel and suspend extracurricular activities you will need to find other ways to be involved. Just because your beloved activity is at a stand still doesn’t mean you are unable to find relevant ways to serve your community. You are bound to have elderly neighbors who will need help purchasing groceries; there might be families who are under strict quarantine and need someone to bring them meals; school systems may need volunteers to help distribute meals to your low-income peers. These are just a handful of ideas, but the point is your community needs leaders like you to step up and help.

So what are parts of your college search that don’t really change? Well there are a handful here too, and these will sound eerily similar as I have mentioned them in many other blog posts:

Without a doubt this is a crazy time. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from someone over the age of 50 “I have never seen anything like this!” As unnerving as that is to hear, it is reassuring to know that even those more experienced adults are unsure how to navigate this whole situation. I guess my point is, if you are feeling unsure please find comfort in knowing you are not alone–everyone is. I hope these suggestions and ideas are helpful to you as you figure out how to keep your college search moving forward. As a company that relies on email, video chat, and phone I want you to contact me to set up a consult so I can give you individualized coaching to make your college search successful.

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