Students visit colleges virtually during COVID-19 pandemic

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Image used with permission from Zachary Gomez.

Junior Zachary Gomez uses his laptop to browse UCLA’s admissions website and to see what other virtual tours of the campus it offers. Gomez would still prefer an in-person campus tour one day.

Chamonix Bas

Senior Abigail Haan spent two days of her two-week winter break last year touring one of her dream schools, the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I really liked it because everyone biked around campus; it was close to the beach, and the city was pretty small,” Haan said.

Although the senior and her mother didn’t go on an official tour, they did walk around the school and explore the surrounding area, including housing, restaurants and the beach.

But when winter break starts later this week, college campuses will not be as accessible to Haan and many of her peers because of the coronavirus pandemic and recent travel restrictions.

Instead, their main sources of information about potential colleges will come from universities’ virtual tours, websites and admissions webinars.

For seniors like Alexa Palmer, being able to see a school in-person would be preferred but not as important because virtual resources have been sufficient.

Since Palmer can’t visit, she plans to spend winter break going online to browse virtual college tours.

“Since I can’t go in person, pictures are enough for me to get an idea of what the campus is like,” she said. “Virtual tours of campuses with a guide have been helpful and informative, [and] interviews with deans of admission shed light on what kind of students the college is looking to accept.”

Even though he has a year left until he has to worry about filling out his college applications, junior Zachary Gomez said he has been taking advantage of resources such as Zoom conferences and school websites to start learning about the places he hopes to apply to.

Official campus tours may resume by the time he is a senior, but he started his college search on Nov. 2 because his father wanted him to get a head start.

All of the information he has needed so far has been easily accessible, so he had no suggestions about what schools could do to improve their virtual outreach.

“I honestly don’t think that not visiting the campus will affect my decision to go to whatever college I choose because I think as long as the studies are good, I can manage with any campus,” Gomez said.

As one of the few to visit campuses in person during the pandemic, senior Esther Fee said she visited Northern Arizona University on Oct. 17, Colorado State University on Oct. 19, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Oct. 21 and Davis and Elkins College on Nov. 23.

The tours were significantly modified to meet social distancing orders, and two of them were self-guided, Fee said, adding that visiting schools was more helpful than any other resource because it was hard to grasp the atmosphere from virtual tours and pictures.

“Overall, I am much more interested in the schools I visited [in person] largely because I was impressed by their campuses,” she said. “It was also much easier to envision life as a student at those schools, which will definitely be a big help when making my final decision.”

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 14 print issue, which can be read here.