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Colleges provide virtual opportunities for prospective students--By Mackenzie Bivin

As RB High transitions to the end of the school year, many students, especially juniors, are beginning to think of the future. With college applications on the horizon, many juniors have to decide which colleges would be the best for them. In the past, students have been able to visit colleges as a way to explore their options and find a good fit. However, due to COVID-19, colleges across America are not allowing people on campus and therefore not allowing tours. There is little indication that these closures will be lifted this summer. Though this can put a damper on plans, this does not mean that students cannot look into potential universities. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Colleges have been working hard to provide a variety of online resources to help students discover possible colleges. Because all that is needed for many of these tools is an internet connection, prospective students are able to discover much more about colleges around the nation from the comfort of their own home.

When navigating a college’s website, there are a variety of resources to look at. Most schools have sections such as academics, campus life, and admissions. The academic section primarily contains the school’s various departments and academic opportunities. This includes, but is not limited to, majors, minors, concentrations, various programs at the school, and department heads. The campus life section involves articles of the university’s special events, athletics, and more. When looking for new resources colleges have added, the information is most likely under admissions.

When visiting a college, many students will schedule a tour through admissions. Although students can no longer visit campuses, they can still go on a tour. A majority of colleges are offering virtual tours online. Some tours, such as those offered by Cal State Fullerton, consist of a 360 degree, three-dimensional panoramic view and a voice-over. When doing this type of tour, the person taking the tour can take as much time as he or she wants. Other tours, such as those offered by the College of the Holy Cross, are videos of current students leading traditional tours on campus. More structured, this type of tour is more similar to the stereotypical tour given on campus. If you are looking for a tour that is as similar to an in-person tour as possible, these tours are probably one of the best options.

Although you can still access tours, one of the benefits of doing a tour in person is you can ask questions about life on campus, classes, studying abroad, and anything else that comes to mind. While this may not be available in the virtual tours, some colleges are creating virtual information sessions. These sessions often involve an admissions counselor(s) and a variety of college students and are generally either Zoom meetings or scheduled chats. Many colleges will try to have a diverse panel of students in an attempt to cover a wide range of subjects.

If these virtual information sessions are not enough, some universities, such as the University of Oregon, have set up an email for prospective students to connect with university students. By sending questions to this email, the university will connect you with a student who can answer your specific questions. This feature can be a good option if you have a particular program you want to ask about.

While social life, food, dorms, etc. are all important, the purpose of college is to get an education. This involves going to class. As courses have moved online, many colleges have uploaded lectures for prospective students. Some lectures are posted on a school’s YouTube channel while others are linked directly to the main website. Some schools, such as UC Santa Barbara, are allowing admitted and prospective students to sign up for virtual lectures, where attendees can learn and ask questions. These resources offer opportunities to get a feel for a specific university’s lectures as well as gain a little bit of knowledge while stuck inside.

Although the closing of colleges may be a bummer, it in no way should limit students from researching possible future colleges. With all these resources available online, so much information about the college is available at our fingertips. Furthermore, traveling to colleges can be expensive. Meanwhile, these universities are offering tours, information sessions, and lectures to anyone with an internet connection. Prospective students should take advantage of this time and the various resources offered. And who knows, it might be fun.

According to NPR education reporter Elissa Nadwormy in her article about how to pick a college during the coronavirus, "Admission Admissions officers are getting creative — they're doing virtual tours and allowing prospective students to tune into the online learning experiences they're offering. The University of Virginia actually had all of its campus tour guides make TikToks."

So parents should be aware before they yell at their children for spending too much time on social media. Perhaps they are researching colleges.

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