How do I determine "fit" without being able to visit?
Flashback to 5 years ago: I remember going on road trips around the Northeast with my grandparents, collecting pamphlets and stashing them in a green plastic binder. At the time, I relied heavily on my sense of the "vibe"–the intangible blend of chats with students, dining hall food samplings, and cozy campus study nooks. Now, the college search landscape looks very different: tour guides walking backward as they yell into the crowd have turned into tiny faces on the screen of a livestream. So how can you possibly decide where you want to spend the next four years without ever having stepped foot on campus? Of course, each individual's journey will be unique, but here are some recommended starting points:
This may be a no-brainer, but I'd highly encourage you to attend a virtual info session, a virtual tour, and any other programming available. While you may not be able to be physically present on campus, these sessions will often answer live questions and provide insights into what makes this college unique. In cases where current students are featured, you can get a sense of how they reflect on their experiences and interact with one another. Do they light up when sharing about their research in a professor's lab? Do they seem enthusiastic about what they're learning in class right now? Have they told stories of genuine connections with peers? Attending these sessions can help you gauge fit with a school and allow you to better envision yourself as a student there.
After you've done your initial research by attending the virtual offerings, take a moment to reflect on what you learned. Was there a particular department that excited you? Was there anything in the presentation that gave you pause? Now that you have some ideas and questions in your mind, reach out to a current student, through a page like this one: Connect with a Student. Browse through and see whose interests and involvements align with what you hope to pursue. Students like myself are always eager to connect and will happily answer any questions you have about our experiences–both in and out of the classroom.
Organize your notes! Whether on a spreadsheet, Word document, or a bunch of post-its, jot down your thoughts while your experience is fresh. After attending a virtual session, or chatting with a current student, thoughts may be swirling in your head. Maybe someone mentioned a study abroad program that sounded exciting or you learned more about the financial aid offerings. Whatever bits of information stand out, it will be helpful to collect them all in one place and be able to refer back to them through every step of the process. Even when making your final decisions, having a reference point for each school will jog your memory and help you be more objective in your assessment.
Ultimately, the stats of class sizes and the number of clubs offered will become one big blur. What instead emerges is the feeling of a place and a vision of how it will help you grow into someone you're proud of. Watch videos from the YouTube channel, browse through the admissions Instagram, and soak up as many details as you can. Finally, trust your instincts and have faith that no matter where you end up calling home, you have all the tools you need to thrive.