Uncertainty. I think that might be the word I use most frequently in conversations, emails, Zoom calls – so much is uncertain and up in the air as a result of the global pandemic.
Much of the focus during these chaotic times has been on high school seniors as counselors scramble to connect with them virtually and provide guidance on how to choose a college without making that last visit to campus. Many college admission officers are also making themselves available virtually day and night to answer questions and assist students whose academic and personal lives have been disrupted.
But what about the high school juniors – the Class of 2021?
These students normally would be taking their first (or maybe second) SAT or ACT, participating in spring events on campuses to acquaint them with the college-going experience, and attending college fairs to gather as much intel as possible. They (and their parents) typically would be meeting with their college counselor, planning summer trips to campuses, and thinking about how to spend their summer in a meaningful way.
COVID-19 has disrupted this process extensively… but not entirely. If there is a bright spot for high school juniors and their families, it is that even more information is available to students as they start to put together their college lists.
Here are a few recommendations to help high school juniors get a jump start on the college search process without setting foot on a campus:
1. Virtual college tours
These vary in quality, but some are really good, and give you an in-depth glimpse into the feel and flavor of a campus. Many not only allow you to “walk” the campus and take a look into buildings, but they embed video and additional pictures into the experience. While it isn’t the same as actually tasting the food in the dining hall, you can certainly get a sense of place.
2. Virtual Information sessions
Many admission offices are turning their in-person admissions presentations into online opportunities. As you would in person, take advantage of this experience to ask questions. While the session may follow a specific script, most presenters are happy to answer questions. Some colleges also are offering topical sessions – perhaps on their study-abroad programs, career services, specific majors, athletics, or other aspects of their campus experience. Use this time to dive deeper into topics that hold a particular interest for you.
3. Online 1-on-1 Meetings
Do you want to talk to someone to be sure your initial questions are addressed as you navigate potential colleges? Are you trying to narrow down your list to focus on the colleges you want to apply to in early fall? Many admission offices encourage you to reach out to your admission counselor (typically listed on the school’s website) to set up a time for a good old-fashioned conversation.
Some colleges also use current students and faculty members to engage with prospective students; you might be able to text or chat with someone from your home state, a professor who teaches in your area of interest, a coach, or a current student who participates in an activity of interest to you.
4. College Podcasts
Ohio Wesleyan University released a podcast series for the first time this year, and it is a valuable tool to help families get information in an easily accessible manner. You or your parents can listen to a topic of your choice whenever and wherever you want – in the car, on a walk, at the gym (when it is safe to return to the gym, that is!) You can choose the information you most want to hear and listen only to the episodes most relevant to you.
5. Social Media
There is a lot of good information on social media. Pictures, testimonials, videos – you name it, and you likely will find it. Whether you spend your time on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube, you will find most colleges have an active presence, and their staff, alumni, students, and faculty have a lot to share. Be sure to note whether the information is up-to-date, how graduates are connected to the institution, and whether students seem pleased with their experience.
Lastly, a tried-and-true method to learn more – word of mouth. Even with all of the technology available, you may find that relatives, friends, teachers, or other acquaintances can tell you a lot about their college experience, how they made their choice, and the resources most beneficial to them in the selection process.
You can learn a lot just by listening! Take some time to connect with those around you about your college search; they might be just the source you need to help you decide the kind of student experience you seek and the college that might best provide it.
Juniors, there is a lot going on right now, and it may be daunting to consider how you will make these important decisions with all of the uncertainty in your world. But while you are social distancing and finishing your classes remotely, use this time to check out all of the new options institutions have created for you. Your options – and opportunities – are virtually endless!
About the Author
This guest article was authored by Stefanie D. Niles, Ed.D., VP for Enrollment and Communications at Ohio Wesleyan University in Ohio. She is a Past-President of National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).