You had six college visits scheduled with your high schooler for April. 

Well, needless to say, not anymore. You and your child may be feeling a bit deer-in-the-headlights about the college search process right now. (Learn more about how to support your child during COVID-19.)

But wait! Maybe you can still make a college visit happen. While a virtual visit will never — I repeat — never be the same as an actual, in-person visit, you can still visit virtually. Admission offices want to connect with you and your child now more than ever. 

If you have a sophomore or junior and he or she is raring to start the college search process, here’s what you can do to get started. 

1. Make friends with Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts.

First things first. It’s time to get comfortable with technology! If you’re working from home with your high schooler, chances are, you’ve already gotten pretty good at using Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and more. Colleges are using this kind of technology to schedule meetings with students.

If you’re still wondering how to set up a Zoom meeting, here are a few quick tips as you prepare to help your high schooler use any type of virtual communication: 

  1. Use a tablet or computer to communicate with colleges. It’s easier to steady than a phone and may offer a more professional “feel” for your student.
  2. Your student may not feel comfortable talking live on a device — so practice. Have your son practice with his grandparents or make sure your daughter is contributing during high school social studies lectures. 
  3. Plan to join your student. Your child may not give off vibes like he wants you to join in on a virtual meeting with an admission counselor, but he probably does! Inform him that on regular college visits, parents and students regularly meet with admission counselors together. 
  4. Come up with a list of questions. In fact, list them out if you’re planning to talk to an admission or financial aid professional. It can help both you and your child feel more prepared. Talking on a device isn’t quite the same as speaking to someone face-to-face!
  5. Learn how to share your screen. You may need to share something to make it easier to communicate. Be sure you have certain documents saved on your computer in advance or access a Google document you might need ahead of time.
  6. Encourage your student to turn his or her video on when talking with college professionals. It’s really hard for others at colleges to interact with people they can’t see. Professionals at colleges want to be able to see how students react and take in information based on visual cues. 
  7. Anticipate some questions. The admission office will likely have questions for you and your student. Things like, “Will you play soccer in college?” are easy to answer. However, “When do you plan to take the ACT?” might be trickier given these COVID-19 times. (That’s a great discussion question, by the way!)

You may need a lot of technology to help your child get through his or her high school classes anyway, so follow Zoom’s prompts for how to set up a Zoom meeting or any other technology you need to use. Most of the time, the admission counselor will invite you to the meeting and all you need to do is download and use the technology — so really, you don’t have to worry about how to set up a Zoom meeting yourself.

School counselors are using tech to plan, too. I know of a high school college counselor who’s currently holding Zoom meetings with families to talk through senior year schedules, financial planning and scholarship pursuits. 

2. Contact the admission office at various colleges and universities.

Contact the admission office at the colleges on your child’s list of schools. Technology can make it possible for you to talk to just about anyone you’re interested in talking with at a particular college. Ask if you can talk with a: 

  • Current student
  • Professor
  • Admission counselor
  • Financial aid professional
  • Coach
  • Study abroad advisor 

The school may use an online calendar called Calendly to schedule virtual meetings. These virtual meetings could be hosted on Skype, Zoom, Hangouts or another platform. They’ll inform you which platform you need to use. 

Make sure the preferred platform is downloaded ahead of time on your computer and you’re sure you know how to use it. Colleges are eager to use their screen to go over things with you and your high schooler!

3. Find out whether accepted student days or online information sessions can happen virtually.

How do you know whether the schools your child is interested in visiting are doing virtual visit days? You check out a Google doc to find out.

Sounds so 21st century, doesn’t it? 

Green Apple College Guidance & Education created a handy list of virtual admission programs and webinars happening at schools across the country. You can also check the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC’s) College Admission Status Update if you can’t find your child’s No. 1 on the list.  

For example, DePaul University has set up two freshmen virtual visit options: an online information session and a virtual campus tour. 

“We are hosting our accepted students day through Blackboard and using Microsoft Teams for those students that would like a virtual appointment,” says Jaclyn Cowell, transfer advisor at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. 

Your child may be able to do a virtual tour as part of the visit day or do a virtual tour completely independent of a visit day. This is a great way to see the very best a college or university has to offer. 

Remember, a virtual experience is a manufactured experience. Unfortunately, you can’t get a real sense of what the students are like, the “real” feel of a classroom or a residence hall and more. 

4. Check the school’s social media accounts.

Encourage your child to check out social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more so your child can interact with current students. Your student may also be able to interact with graduates from his or her high school who attend colleges on the list. 

Your son or daughter can ask about academic life, social life, athletics, the arts, the food and other areas of campus that may be important to him or her. 

Remember, what you’re hearing is very subjective — it’s coming from students! However, do have your child ask current students whether the college’s communication has been appropriate in light of the pandemic. It’s as good a time as any to find out whether a college has its emergency response (and its aftermath!) figured out, at least for the time being. 

Finally, as always, use good judgment when interacting with people online. 

Some colleges are also doing social media account takeovers. This means that current students are running the school’s social media accounts — within reason, of course. It’s a more interesting twist on administrative control over Instagram and Facebook.

5. Good old-fashioned email and phone calls never go out of style.

Let’s say you’ve already started developing a relationship with people from a particular college. Maybe you visited the school last fall or maybe you squeaked your visit in at the nick of time in early January — before COVID-19 was discovered in the United States.

Do you have a couple of simple questions that an admission counselor can answer? Is it easier to have a short conversation on the phone? Admission counselors and others at colleges are still working those phone lines!

Also, your student may notice that his or her email inbox is blowing up right now. Colleges have probably bought your child’s name from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. Guess what? Your kid’s name is on the communication flow and is being recruited.

Email is still a great way to interact, plus, it might save you from having to learn how to set up a Zoom meeting!

6. Wait for the real thing.

You absolutely can wait until the fall (or winter) to start up your high schooler’s college search. Your approach may be to go on a fact-finding mission right now, with the intent to fire up a more robust search later on. It’s a great approach. 

Again, there’s nothing better than the real deal. Once you see a junky residence hall room, you can’t unsee it. Once your high school junior sits in the most inspiring lecture in a packed lecture hall, the experience can’t be replicated. You can’t sample the cafeteria food from home or feel the same stadium vibe if you’re not actually at the football game.

To recap: In-person college visits are so, SO important. 

Add a Dose of Patience

We’re living in extraordinary times. Whatever you decide to do right now is okay. 

Also, don’t feel like your child is behind the ball. Colleges understand how you must be feeling. Remember, they want you and your child to visit and to apply. They’re hard-wired to be as understanding as possible during these extraordinary circumstances.

Sophomores and juniors are lucky — they still have time on their side. Yes, it may be tricky to squish in every college visit during junior year. But having a “can-do” attitude makes all the difference — and that even includes when you’re trying to learn how to set up a Zoom meeting!

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