Illustration by Brynne Barnard-Bahn

Unable to visit colleges, seniors use online tours, websites

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many aspects of life, including college decisions.

For example, seniors couldn’t visit colleges during spring break or attend admitted-student days. 

Instead, colleges have provided students with online information and opportunities, according to director of college counseling Jane Bauman.

“I have been inundated with messages from colleges with links to their virtual tours, Zoom meetings, newsletters, etc.,” Bauman said. “But honestly, there is no substitute for visiting a campus and getting a better feeling for the vibe. That might end up being a luxury students don’t have this year.”

Bauman urges students to network with alumni and anyone they know at a particular college to get a sense of the environment.

Senior Maddie Woo plans to attend the University of San Diego in the fall. She said she looked at college websites for online tours and reached out to friends at colleges she was considering, such as Santa Clara University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, San Diego.

“My parents (attended) the offered information sessions to learn more about colleges, and I (joined) some admitted-student sessions via Zoom, which really helped me make my decision,” Woo said.

Senior Alyssa Valverde said she is not a fan of the online college visits.

“The virtual tours only show students what the college wants them to see,” Valverde said. “That’s why I (researched) on a site called Niche — which ranks things like food, housing, atmosphere, professors and even crime rates.

“Over spring break, I was planning to visit some colleges I got into to see if that college is really the right fit for me. The most important thing I look for when choosing a college is if the atmosphere makes me comfortable, so I’m a bit annoyed because it’s something I can’t see now.”

While there are a few downsides, assistant director of college counseling Chris Kuipers said online options force “students to focus on objective features of colleges (and) to really consider the more objective features of a college — specific academic and extracurricular programs, etc.

“Students avoid being overly influenced by a good or bad tour guide or good or bad weather or any of the other random things that can disproportionately affect a student’s impression during a tour or campus visit,” Kuipers said.

Also, colleges have the potential to offer a more personalized recruitment process because students now have more control over whom they connect with and can seek people who align with their own interests, according to Kuipers.

He added that colleges can use these digital tools to continue to reach students who normally wouldn’t be able to visit campus.

Woo said the pandemic didn’t affect her too much because she already had visited some colleges. However, she did consider some schools’ reactions to the pandemic.

“I’ve realized that I want to go to a school with a smaller student body — similar to Country Day,” Woo said. “Larger schools such as USC, which I was considering, did not offer a refund for housing for a long time, and the classes have turned to pass/fail. However, I have noticed that smaller schools have offered extra office hours and the professors have been more approachable.”

Bauman said she always recommends that students apply to a UC or a California State University as a backup.

“But I know if I were choosing a college, I would consider how the state where the school is located is responding,” Bauman said.

Kuipers said he asks parents and students more questions about financial security, proximity to home and social or emotional support. 

The UC schools have kept their deadline of May 1 for students to submit their Statement of Intent to Register to plan their budgets. But some other schools have pushed back their deadline to commit to June 1, according to Bauman.

“These schools are eager to capture the students they have admitted, and they are willing to give them extra time to decide,” Bauman said. “These schools face competing demands: capture more students and make their budgets, which depend on enrollment.”

Bauman said that although there may be more openings on waitlists, she advises students to commit to a second-choice school, although they will forfeit their deposit if they are accepted off a waitlist to their first choice later.

According to Woo, she followed Bauman’s advice and committed to UC San Diego.

“I may lose my deposit, but it kept my options open,” Woo said. “I committed to UC San Diego, but I’m really intending on going to USD once I know the outcome of my appeal letter (there), which was for more financial aid. USD pushed the date to commit to June 1.”

Valverde said she tried to treat the decision process as normally as possible.

“I always (asked) myself: ‘If the coronavirus did not happen, how would I be choosing a college?’” she said.

—By Sanjana Anand