For high school students ready to check out colleges and universities, it won’t be business as usual this year due to COVID-19 related restrictions and safety precautions. Fortunately, schools are boosting the virtual college tour, tailoring opportunities so that students can still learn all they need to know about a campus.
Here’s what some local schools are doing to make campuses and admission activities accessible to prospective students.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Laura Burrell Baxter, Director of College Advising at The Key School, says that the high school Class of 2021 will likely experience the greatest challenge when it comes to selecting their school, since much of the search process from the pre-COVID days just isn’t possible at this time.
“The biggest difference I’ve seen,” says Baxter, “is that there are so many more opportunities (for a high school student) to do either Skype or a Google meet or a Zoom call with your admission counselor,” or whatever type of college representative you’d normally see visiting a high school or presenting at a college fair.
Even parents can connect virtually with financial aid officers or other individuals they’d normally meet with in person. “We all have that venue” now, she says.
Baxter adds that since so many high schoolers are already on social media, researching schools through their Instagram (or other platform) accounts is a no-brainer.
Baxter also encourages students to “really tap into the alums that you know who go to the schools where you’re hoping to go.” As she suggests to her rising seniors at Key, who have the cell phone numbers of recent past-grads at college, kids can connect with their former schoolmates to learn more about classes, the vibe on campus, and other “insider information” that offers a solid glimpse into school life.
Cruise Campus With a Click—The Virtual College Tour
From drone flyovers to student-led quad walks exploring everything from classrooms to dining halls, campuses are “open” online. “Regardless of which [type of tour] they choose to do, it’s really giving kids the only chance to see the inside of a lecture hall or how big or how small a dorm room (is),” Baxter says of the various ways colleges have virtually welcomed high school students to campus.
Coleen Beddick, Director of Events and Volunteers at Washington College on the Eastern Shore, says the school has worked hard to recreate its in-person admissions experiences for online offerings.
Every afternoon, WC offers a virtual tour so prospective students can get an inside look at the grounds from the comfort of their own homes. “During this tour, students and their families can take a virtual walk through campus with one of our current students in real time and ask questions, just like they would on campus,” she says. Classrooms, residence halls, athletic fields, and even downtown Chestertown are just some of the parts of the WC experience that will be included in the online tours. Virtual info sessions, live student chats, and admissions interviews will also be available, says Beddick.
“We are here to connect students with whomever they feel the need to speak with in order to get their questions answered,” she adds.
Here to Help
Goucher College has also tweaked its physical and virtual options to provide a productive experience for students hoping to learn more about the school. Vice President for Enrollment Management Jonathan Lindsay says that in addition to offering online tours, Goucher has created a driving tour to offer prospective students a middle ground option.
Having pre-registered for the tour and with masks on hand, families remain in their cars and follow a driving map throughout campus. Lindsay says visitors can even briefly pause along the route for interactive experiences. “On their map there are QR codes that allow the visitor to stop in front of a building, click on the QR code (with a smartphone), and the QR code provides images from inside the building.”
The college is also offering in-person visits with “a lot of safety precautions” in place, Lindsay says, such as limiting the number of participating individuals, sticking to a single floor of indoor spaces, and, of course, using masks and hand sanitizer.
Look for the Silver Linings
Dale Bittinger, Assistant Vice Provost at University of Maryland Baltimore College (UMBC), says that although prospective students likely won’t be able to check out the college in the traditional ways, it’s an opportunity for UMBC to really let its core tenets shine.
“If you listen well, you’ll have a chance to understand the campus and its values,” says Bittinger. Baxter says that although many college and university representatives who would normally visit high schools to speak to juniors and seniors likely won’t be doing so this fall. So, Skype and Zoom will allow members of school admissions teams to connect with more high schools than they might be able to in person.
Lindsay adds another unexpected outcome. “We were pushed into virtual programming, and in some cases, it has provided more opportunities for students.” But because more faculty members are teaching online, prospective students can access more classes to get a sense of the academic community.
Whether by Skype, on social media, or at a distance, colleges and universities are providing a wealth of ways to connect with high schoolers and their families. So be sure to peruse school websites carefully for all their offerings. No matter which options you pick, stay safe, and enjoy. You’ve got this, Class of 2021!
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