By MICHELLE FOLEY
As college campuses nationwide shut down in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, universities and students alike began adapting to help incoming college freshmen decide where they will be attending next year without the benefit of on-campus visitations.
For students who were counting on factoring in-person campus tours into their considerations, these cancellations were particularly troubling.
“That was the biggest shock to me because I was really looking forward to those trips,” says Monterey High School senior Kelly Harvell, who has received offers from two schools on the East Coast. “I knew the schools were amazing, but I didn’t know how to differentiate between them because I’d never even been back east at all. ”
For Harvell, in-person insights into a university’s surrounding location have been crucial. For example, a visit to the University of Southern California solidified her decision to not attend a college in Los Angeles, as she discovered there that she was particularly sensitive to the city’s poor air quality.
“The campus alone was beautiful, and I loved it there, but from the day that I entered Los Angeles to the day that I left, I just couldn’t stop coughing,” she says.
Other students had been counting on a campus visit to help them better understand their colleges’ surrounding cultures. Senior Sandpiper editor Athena Fosler-Brazil applied to the University of Missouri for its strong journalism program. After being accepted with a substantial scholarship offered, the school was high on her list, but having never visited the Midwest, some reservations remained.
“It’s definitely a different culture than what I’m used to, but I was banking on the idea that once I’d visited, I’d be able to make a decision based off of how I liked the campus,” she elaborates. “Missouri is really foreign to me, so the fact that I could be going in blind is a little bit scary. What if I go there and I actually hate it?”
This same feeling of cultural unfamiliarity played into CHS senior Pascale Montgomery’s decision to stay in California for college instead of attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“It’s a big decision to make under really unique circumstances, and visualizing myself living so far away when I couldn’t visit was a dealbreaker,” Montgomery says. “We are making this huge decision to invest in a university for the next four years of our lives.”
Others feel that a campus visit has not been crucial to their decision-making process whatsoever. One such senior, Felix Andam from St. Ignatius College Preparatory, compares his situation to his mother’s solo emigration from Ghana to the U.S. for college.
“It’s pretty scary to be by yourself in another country without your parents,” he says. “I’ve been to the East Coast before, which is more than what my mom got when she had to pick a school.”
Some seniors are simply excited for the chance to leave their home state for college, and others, such as CHS senior Marcus Lo, a future business major at the University of Southern California, committed due to factors such as reputation, major-specific academic strength and location, all of which could be found online.
In fact, most students say they have found much or all of the information that they needed in order to make a decision online.
“I just know that there’s a Trader Joes, a Whole Foods, a Target and a Starbucks all within walking distance,” Salinas High School senior Joanna Pak says of her decision to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, in the coming fall. “It also helps that their dining hall is ranked the second-best in the nation.”
With all that is going on these days, many universities have been reaching out to students with college-specific virtual tools, such as information sessions and virtual tours, online events and close communication with university students and faculty.
“Initially, I was going on hearsay and YouTube videos,” says Harvell. “Luckily, though, many of the schools that I was looking into provided a lot of student resources.”
Students like Harvell report reaching out to current students, regional counselors and their alumni interviewers in order to inform their decision. While helpful, these resources are not perfect.
“For me personally, virtual tours are just not the same,” Fosler-Brazil says. “There’s something about walking around a college campus and being able to picture yourself there and imagine what your life could be like, and that’s kind of missing from some of these schools that I’m not going to be able to visit.”
Still, students are recognizing the upsides to an otherwise unfamiliar situation.
“I’m grateful to have options that I think I will like, and maybe my biases will be proven wrong and I will absolutely love it there,” says the future journalist, who is not alone in adapting to this unprecedented situation with refreshing optimism.
As classmate Montgomery says, “It’s good to be somewhere else, see something new. It does help to visit a campus to see if it has the potential to feel like home, but you can make a home out of anything if you take the initiative to.”