Maggie Stamets is a writer for BUILT BY GIRLS, which prepares the next generation of female and non-binary leaders to step into their power and break into their careers. WAVE is the backbone of BUILT BY GIRLS: it’s a 1:1 matching program that connects high school and college students with top tech professionals across the country. For more information and to sign up check out builtbygirls.com.
For the second year in a row, high school seniors are about to embark on the college selection process amid a pandemic, making a typically stressful process even more daunting. Factors like location, cost, and on-campus life are usually weighed to make the best possible decision for the student. But with COVID-19 making traveling for campus tours dangerous and skyrocketing unemployment rates making the question of cost even more important, students are juggling additional stressors that will undoubtedly affect their choice.
“One of the tough things about this year is that students are swamped with their previous concerns: Will I feel at home? Will I make friends? Will I receive a quality education?” said Chris Hoffman, assistant dean of admission at Hofstra University, “along with a whole new set of questions: Is the school doing everything they can to keep students safe? Am I able to see my friends on campus?”
The college experience for most is centered around the physical campus. This is where you live, eat, learn, and go to club meetings for four years. “Probably the biggest concern that I’m seeing from my prospective students is that they want a college experience that’s as normal as possible while still being safe,” said Hoffman.
So what is the best way to make an informed decision even amid a pandemic?
Don’t skip the tour
Even if you have to book a virtual tour, this will give a feel for the size and vibe of a campus. If it is possible, try to see the school in person. Many colleges are offering limited admissions events and college tours that follow COVID-19 precautions and if you do not have to travel to attend, this can make your decision much easier.
If you aren’t able to visit physically, make sure you still get a feel for the town or surrounding area. Keep in mind that you will be living there for four years or more. And eventually the pandemic will end and you’ll be able to go to dinner or grocery shop in the town. Use Google Maps and act like you’re planning a vacation. Explore the area and try to envision yourself grabbing a cup of coffee at the cafe or walking down the main street.
Contact student affairs to get a feel of on-campus life
Reach out to student affairs to see how they are handling in-person meetings on campus. Are clubs still meeting? If not, are there virtual options? Are you able to eat anywhere on campus or do you have to remain in your dorm when not in class? It’s important that you feel safe on campus, but there is a concern of isolation.
“Remember that although things are tough right now, we’re hopefully turning the corner soon, and life at college and beyond will go back to normal. So as much as you try to plan for the short. term, make sure you’re also planning for the long term in that regard,” said Hoffman, who encourages his students to think beyond this current moment when selecting a school.
Connect with a current student
Many universities have programs that connect prospective students to current students. By talking to a current student, you can get a firsthand look at what it is like to be on campus and in classes right now. Come prepared with a list of questions that are important to you. This will give you a feel for the campus culture and safety measures. You will be able to better tell if it’s a good fit than if you simply took a tour or read about the school in the Princeton Review.
Keep in mind that while this is a big choice, nothing is permanent. You can select a school now and transfer later, or perhaps taking a gap year makes the most sense. Make the most educated choice possible but take some pressure off yourself.
“Keep an open mind, but stay true to yourself. Both of these sound cliché, and they might even sound like they contradict each other, but both are important pieces of the puzzle,” said Hoffman. “In the aspects of college that are super important to you, such as the overall feel, the class sizes, and the resources available to students, make sure the schools you’re looking at meet those criteria. But in certain other aspects — be the size, location, and setting — try looking at some schools that might not initially make your list! You’ll be surprised at what you end up loving.”
Read more information and tips in our College section