With the vaccine rollout under way and some colleges re-opening their doors for in-person tours, it’s worth considering how you want to conduct your college search. We’ve seen many versions of the campus tour this year (individual families, small groups, self-guided, outside only, or virtual). In an ordinary year, it might seem obvious that the best way to get a sense of the campus is to physically be there. But that’s less obvious now.
Even when tours are being conducted in-person, they’re limited by social distancing guidelines. You may not be able to see everything you want to see, like the inside of a dorm room, lab facilities, art studios, and student centers. And some of the most valuable aspects of the traditional campus visit aren’t part of the official tour at all:
- Attending a class to get a sense of your potential classmates and professors.
- Eating lunch in the dining hall to immerse yourself in daily student life outside the classroom.
- Going to an on-campus event like a club meeting or basketball game to see how current students engage with your interests.
- Exploring off campus to experience the surrounding city or neighborhood.
- Speaking with current students to get unfiltered opinions about what matters to them and to you.
- And finally – THE VIBE.
One of the most crucial aspects of in-person tours is also hardest to describe. Students who attend college tours often describe a feeling or a “vibe” that calls to them—or doesn’t. They see the campus, they feel the buzz of student life around them, and they “just know” this is where they belong—or don’t. The vibe is often what makes campus tours invaluable in conducting your college search…but visiting campus right now might not give you an accurate gut reaction. With so many schools practicing social distancing and holding most (or all) classes online, you won’t get the vibe that’s characteristic of the campus in more ordinary circumstances.
We’re not saying don’t visit! Touring a campus in person is still a great way to test whether you can picture yourself there for four years. If you can do so safely (following local laws and campus policies), you’re sure to learn something. Check with each college you’re considering to find out what their in-person tours cover right now, and make sure you have a way to fill in any gaps. For instance, some schools are offering drive-through tours of campus with narration by a tour guide, so you can view the campus, but you won’t get inside buildings. See if the school website has compensated for this by providing virtual tours of the facilities that matter to you.
And don’t underestimate the value of virtual tours! Some schools are offering live, personalized virtual tours, led by current students. These tours can get you inside buildings you wouldn’t have access to in person, and you’ll be able to ask questions along the way. Virtual tours or online slideshows can also give you a better sense of that all-important vibe. You want to see videos and images of what the campus is like when it’s alive with student activity because, hopefully, that’s how it will be again by the time you attend.
As always—and maybe now more than ever—speaking with current students is the best way to get an insider’s view of campus life. We strongly recommend talking to current juniors or seniors who have been at a school long enough to know what it’s like under more normal circumstances. If you don’t already know current students at the schools you’re considering, don’t despair: there are still ways to get connected. Look at the webpages for clubs that interest you. Most will list a student contact you can reach out to, giving you a direct line to someone who shares your interests. If that fails, you can always reach out to the admissions office to be put in touch with a current student.
In-person tours are still an exciting and informative part of the college search, even in these unusual times. While you will likely have to do a little more research from your couch, the rush of new online content has, thankfully, made that easier. Spend some time reflecting on what really matters to you about your future college experience and target your research to find your best fit college.
Personalized advice about your college search is available through our services at Expert Admissions.