How To Find Your Dream School Amidst A Pandemic

Student Life

The transition from high school to college is a memorable and somewhat challenging time for many, and a time that is currently suffering under pressures not typically associated with moving away from home. In a time full of questions, with no definitive answers, rising high school seniors are left in the dark on what kind of college experience they may even be signing up for. A summer many rising seniors planned on spending attending college tours in hopes of finding a school fit for them, has not been the summer 2020 anyone was expecting.

With the college application process soon approaching and the campus tours that many incoming students rely on being canceled, the task of finding the perfect college has become significantly more difficult. While school websites are a great place to start, even now you shouldn't let your school search end there. Here are some top tips for finding your dream school amidst a pandemic.

Look Into Online Tours

Many colleges and large universities have taken to online click-through campus tours and informational meetings via Zoom for prospective students. Some schools have made their own version of a "virtual information session" led by admissions staff with the goals of spreading information about why their school should be your dream school. While an online tour or Zoom info session may not give you the same authentic perspective on a school, it does create a much more accessible experience.

Not having to make a trip out to see a school in person can save a lot of time and money, as well as allowing you to check out schools in faraway places you may not have considered otherwise. A majority of these live online meetings will allow time to answer any questions about admissions, changes during the pandemic, student life, academics, and whatever else interests you. And don't forget to take notes!

Do a YouTube Search

If you're looking into any larger university, chances are there's someone out there who has discussed their experiences attending. Doing a quick YouTube search for schools you're interested in can yield hundreds of results, from drone filmed campus tours to a week in my life videos. Watching videos like these work well alongside virtual information sessions to get an overall understanding of how it would feel to go there. Some colleges have their own YouTube channels but the information you learn can feel much more personal coming from a student. You can also find videos specific to a major, program, or extracurricular you're interested in.

Student-made sit down videos answering questions asked by viewers can be super helpful in finding a school that has a social and academic environment that works well for you. Think about what's important to you in a college- both the learning environment and social opportunities and these videos to help make those decisions. Student life and culture vary by school and this is a great way to get a feel for a campus and how you could fit in there.

Talk to Others

While the current Coronavirus constrictions have brought the typical student-led tours to a halt, there are still many ways to contact people who have the answers to all your questions. Talking to your friends about your college plans can provide some ideas of what to look for and what will suit your interests. But don't let your college conversations stop with people your age! Take time to pursue conversations with people who have attended or currently attend schools you're looking into. Even if you don't personally know someone, an Instagram DM or YouTube comment can help you gain an insider look at what could be your dream school.

When looking into a school that interests you, pay attention to contacts you may come across. Many schools make it pretty easy to contact an admissions counselor with any questions. Additionally, if you attend a Zoom information session you can sometimes gain more personal contact with the administrator who ran the call. Occasionally there are also options for online Q & A sessions with current students facilitated by the college that can provide answers you may be searching for.

Know What You Need

Knowing your needs and wants when heading into any big life decision is extremely important. When establishing what you want in a school, think about not only academics but also the sort of social experience you would look forward to. Academically is there a specific major, class or program that you're looking for? Are major sporting events important? Greek life? What does the surrounding city offer? A study abroad program? Any fun school traditions? These are all questions of what matters to you personally and what you can live without.

Rember to create attainable goals and plans for yourself regarding college. There's no problem with dreaming big, but when you set realistic goals they become easier to attain. Conduct some research on admission requirements to schools you're interested in. Are they test-optional due to COVID-19? What's their typical SAT and ACT scores? Do they use the Common App? Do you need to assemble a portfolio? Are any parts of the application due soon?

Identifying aspects of the college experience that you find as a must-have makes it much easier to find your dream school. Knowing what you want in a school and what steps you need to take to get there are great ways to move in the direction of establishing your college list and hopefully finding your perfect fit. Even in a situation with such uncertain outcomes, that can quite frankly be pretty stressful, it's important that we keep looking towards the future with high hopes.

Personal Example

For me, it is important that I go to a school with a relatively large student body and that hosts competitive sports games that I could attend. At the moment I’ve focused my search on schools within my home state due to finances. I’ve spent my fair share of time exploring options for majors at the Universities that interest me. Majors that I’m considering include journalism, creative writing, film studies/ production, and media studies. It’s important to me that my dream school not only offers these programs but is strong in them and presents some kind of unique opportunity that sets it apart from other schools. Recently I’ve spent more time having helpful discussions with friends on what colleges interest us, and how we plan to write application essays.

I have begun to assemble a document on my laptop listing schools I’m interested in, recording all the criteria that mattered to me. Listing out application fees, tuition predictions, target test score ranges, what about that school interests me, and possible pros and cons. There are services such as the College Board’s Big Future that make it easy to compile a list to compare schools. With every school on your list, ask yourself if you can envision being there, and take into consideration why or why not.

Other Resources

The Teen Magazine also has other helpful articles on the topic of college preparedness, such as How Incoming High School Seniors Can Start Preparing for College Now and Unique Ways to Improve Your SAT Score. Reading online articles is a great starting point for the college hunt, especially when there are so many unknown factors in addition to an already stressful process.

Despite the current circumstances the class of 2021 is experiencing, it’s in our best interest to work with what we’ve got and make the best of this situation. Happy dream school hunting!

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Hollis Humphrey

Hollis Humphrey is a high school senior from Central Florida. In her free time she enjoys rollerskating, watching movies, petting dogs and hanging out with her friends. After high school she plans to pursue a career in journalism or creative writing.


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