As a recent guest on The College Financial Lady’s Facebook Live series, Ask The Experts, I was called upon to address this topic. This is drawn from my remarks.
Obviously this is of huge concern because finding good college “matches” is key to college success and “match” is based on the coming together of student priorities and institutional offering.
The current stay at home orders, while inconvenient, and by this time probably unpleasant, offer a unique opportunity for you to engage in a very important first step to your college search: thoughtful and focused self-reflection. If you aren’t clear about what you want and need in your college experience, it is impossible to find a great match.
Establish your own list of desired characteristics for the college you attend. These will become the criteria for researching and evaluating colleges. The most effective lists are comprehensive and include:
Academic Factors: intellectual environment, degree requirements, major offerings, learning/teaching style, academic advising services, class size, quality markers.
Personal Factors: institutional size, type of location, residential life, student diversity, extracurricular interests, campus culture, Greek Life, and socio-political environment, among others.
Family Parameters: distance from home, travel logistics, access to public transportation, and affordability.
These are the things that are important to you and should be the factors to focus on while researching college options.
Researching colleges is like peeling onions. There are many layers. The deeper you go the closer you get to understanding the core of an institution.
COVID-19 can’t stop you from peeling the outside & middle of the onion.
Learn everything you can about colleges from a distance. Colleges want students who are resourceful and participate in their own learning. Now’s the time to breakout your research skills. Consult guidebooks, websites, and articles. Don’t limit yourself to institutional websites, Wikipedia, and the obvious suspects: Big Future, College Express and the like. Dig deeper.
Let your criteria direct your search. If you’re looking for engineering programs, visit the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology website and see where that takes you. Budding journalist? Visit the Associated Collegiate Press website to learn about college newspapers. If you’re a young woman, check out the Women’s College Coalition. Data geeks, College Navigator may be the answer to your dreams, but if you’re wanting to really understand which colleges offer quality student engagement, you’ll want to visit the National Survey of Student Engagement website.
By expanding your research beyond the obvious, you enhance your understanding by including a diversity of perspectives. Not only do you get a fuller understanding of the institution you’re researching, but you also demonstrate you’ve done your homework when you do connect with college admission officers on a personal level.
Connect in spite of COVID-19.
Colleges and universities are as concerned about this distancing as you are. They’re working hard to offer robust virtual offerings. Most college websites prominently feature virtual info sessions and campus tours either from their homepages or from their admission websites. That’s not all. Type the name of any college into the YouTube search box and you’ll see a plentitude of options from students sharing their activities and experiences, to professors discussing topics of current interest, admission officers offering suggestions about applying, and sports teams highlighting their exploits. Make thoughtful use of these and you’re on your way to great college matches.
Check out college newspapers and pay attention to how institutions are responding and communicating with students regarding the current COVID-19 situation. These are key to understanding institutional priorities.
Contact the admissions officer who handles your region/high school. This person is not only a valuable resource who can connect you to a wealth of information and campus personnel, but also typically has a significant impact on furthering your application for admission. To put your best foot forward, make sure you’ve done your homework and, have a significant reason for reaching out.
And now for an end run around COVID-19.
Current restrictions are keeping you from campus tours, visits with coaches and sports teams, and overnights in residence halls, but they won’t last forever. Until large gatherings are allowed and travel is easy, you’re going to need to be creative.
Think about your ideal campus visit. If you were ruler of the world, what would you see, what would you do, who would you meet? Use your brainstorming to direct your subsequent connections. Reach out to faculty members, coaches, financial aid officers, career development specialists – any college staff member who might further your understanding of the institution. If you can’t find these people online using campus directories, ask your admission officer to connect you. The same goes connecting with students from your hometown, athletes, orchestra members, club officers, Greek Life ambassadors, or students from any group that interests you. Lastly, request introductions to college alumni who are additional sources of information and perspective.
No two students’ college research will look the same. Your research should be directed by your priorities. COVID-19 may be turning your college search on its head, but it just might make for more thoughtful and effective “matches”.