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How To: The Remote College Visit

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Elizabeth Heaton

Written by Elizabeth Heatonon March 17th, 2020

I began my admissions career at the University of Pennsylvania, where I chaired university selection committees, evaluated potential athletic recruits as one of the school's athletics liaisons, and oversaw the university's portfolio of admissions publications. I also served as second chair in the selection committee for the school's flagship interdisciplinary Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology. A frequent contributor to USA TODAY and The Huffington Post and a graduate of Cornell University, I bring exceptional skills to the craft of essay writing paired with experience reading and evaluating thousands of admissions essays. I can offer expert advice on a wide range of college admissions topics, from colleges' expectations for high school curriculum choices and standardized test scores to choosing the right extracurricular activities and essay topics. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania, I worked as a public relations professional and served for a decade as a member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.
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Believe it or not, there is still an opportunity to move your college process forward amidst college and school closings and the push for more social distancing. As you look for things to do during downtime and for ways to fill your days until life returns to a more normal pace, consider our step-by-step suggestions for a remote college visit that hews closely to the real thing. 10:10 AM. Instead of arriving 20 minutes early for the tour, signing in, and then getting coffee in the campus center (where you observe and eavesdrop on student life), pour everyone coffee and use laptops or smartphones to peruse the online student newspaper. What are people talking about in the Op Eds? What events happened on campus last weekend? Any other items of note? 10:30 AM. Traditionally, this would signal the start of a 60 minute campus tour led by a peppy sophomore econ major who talks about her preferred courses, her a capella group, and her favorite campus traditions. For your remote visit, take a 30-minute online tour of college-curated media. This could be an official virtual tour from the admissions webpage, student videos on the college’s YouTube channel, or images and links from the college’s official Instagram and Twitter feeds. Then take off those rose-colored goggles for 30 minutes of exploring broader campus views. Check out videos from, student reviews on, and click through #[UniversityName] tags on Twitter to see what kids are posting about the college, rather than what the college posts about itself. 11:30 AM. Ah, those final moments when you linger awkwardly while Dad asks some extra questions (and to which you are secretly glad to hear the answers). Replace that with joining the college or admissions office hosted Facebook group. Post there, letting them know you had to cancel your visit (or were disappointed that they cancelled it), but were hoping to hear a general perspective on a few questions. Sample Dad questions:
  • What do students who don’t drink do for fun on a Friday night?
  • Do all students on a dorm floor share the same bathrooms?
  • What security measures are in place to protect students?
11:45 AM. At this point in an in-person visit, you would head to lunch at the cafeteria or a restaurant downtown. For your virtual visit, take a few minutes to review on-campus dining options, and look at Yelp and Google Maps to discover what is within walking distance of campus. Then have lunch together as a family and debrief everything you learned. 12:45 PM. Take some final notes about the experience and add them to a folder (either on your computer or a paper version) in which you gather all of your college visit information. When restrictions are eased in the future (hopefully not too long from now!), revisit your notes to determine which schools take priority in terms of actually stepping foot on campus as you finalize your college list. Getting the Most out of a College Visit


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