In light of the coronavirus outbreak, prospective students must rely more than ever on virtual resources and tools to choose a college that's right for them.

6 Tips for Choosing a College Virtually


  • Prospective students can no longer explore campuses in person due to coronavirus.
  • Many colleges are replacing on-campus tours with virtual tours and videos.
  • Instead of meeting face to face, students can schedule video chats with admissions counselors.

Deciding on a college to attend isn't easy. In fact, it's gotten even harder in recent months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. No longer can you leisurely explore campus, meet with staff and faculty face to face, or eat out at students' favorite local hot spots.

Without this firsthand experience of a school and its surrounding environment — which can play a vital role in many prospective undergraduates' college decisions — the process of choosing a college can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, even though you can't physically step foot on campus at this time, there are several steps you can take to help you figure out which college is right for you. Below, we introduce six ways for getting to know colleges virtually so that you can feel confident in your decision.

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How to Choose a College Virtually

Review the School's Website

University websites are chock-full of important information and resources, such as detailed campus maps and lists of clubs, courses, and activities.

You can search for your major on the school's website to learn more about that department's faculty, program requirements, minors, and events. You might also check to see whether the institution has won any awards or received any recent press for something like announcing a new initiative or achieving some major milestone.

Finally, be sure to pay special attention to financial aid and tuition. You might put together a spreadsheet that compares the total costs of all the colleges you're considering.

PRO TIP

Think about the top five things you're looking for in a college. Does this institution check off all or most of those boxes?



Take a Virtual Tour

Many colleges and universities, particularly in light of the pandemic, offer virtual campus tours, allowing you to experience the campus even when you can't physically be there.

These tours typically show you campus buildings, including dorms, and may also include interviews with students, faculty, and staff.

If you can't access a virtual tour directly from the university's website, Facebook page, or other social media accounts, you may consider reaching out to the school's marketing department to see whether they offer anything similar or can tell you more about the campus.

PRO TIP

Keep a list of pros and cons of the institution while on the virtual tour to help you make your college decision.



Schedule a Chat With an Alum

One of the best ways to learn more about an institution is to reach out to alumni. Here are some ways you could do this:

  • Network. Do you have a friend, parent, or classmate who knows an alum? If so, ask them to connect you with that person over email.
  • Contact the school's alumni office. Most institutions have an alumni office, which can hook you up with recent graduates who are eager to speak with prospective students. There may even be an alumni rep who can help you find people to contact.
  • Start using LinkedIn. LinkedIn offers a convenient way to make professional connections. Simply make a free account (if you don't already have one), type in the college name in the search bar, and click on the "Alumni" tab. Many people who work in alumni relations don't mind being contacted this way and in fact enjoy talking with prospective students and answering their questions.

Before you get in touch with any alumni, make a list of questions you want to ask and think hard about the experiences you want to learn more about.

PRO TIP

Be sure to thank any alumni who take the time to speak with you. If you know their address, you may send them a handwritten thank-you card; otherwise, a polite email should suffice.

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Check Out YouTube Videos

Most universities have fairly active social media accounts, with some even run by current students. YouTube in particular can provide you with an inside look at the school and how students engage with it.

By searching for the school's official YouTube channel, you'll likely find things like tours of certain areas of campus; interviews with professors, students, and staff; and coverage of school events and athletics.

PRO TIP

Search the university's YouTube channel for specific topics you're interested in, such as sports, social activities, art, or other extracurriculars.



Set Up a Virtual Meeting

You may need to speak to an admissions representative if you have any questions about the admissions process, financial aid, or housing.

Due to the coronavirus, many colleges now offer prospective students the option of setting up a virtual meeting over video chat, usually Zoom or Google Hangouts. Many schools, like the University of Central Arkansas, allow you to choose a virtual meeting slot by filling out an online form.

PRO TIP

Try to prepare a list of questions before your meeting. Remember that admissions counselors are busy and therefore might not have much time for follow-up calls or emails. If you're not sure what to ask, consider talking with a current student there, your parents, or your guidance counselor first.



Read Student Testimonials

College websites often include testimonials from real students and alumni that may be worth reading, especially if they address your department or major. Additionally, many sites, such as Niche, allow current and former students to rate and review their institutions.

Don't forget to check social media, too, particularly Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

PRO TIP

One bad testimonial shouldn't make or break your college decision. Use the reviews to get a general feel of the school and to help you determine whether it will be a good fit for you personally.