How to Choose a College in the Time of the Coronavirus

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Find the College Right for You! »

Everything about college is interactive. From taking your SATs to touring a campus, in-person connections are integral to the college choice process. In a time where standing 6 feet apart is the new normal, however, the warm embraces from students and faculty that make the college search so fun are no longer possible. What’s more, the feeling prospective students get from stepping onto a campus is a huge factor that can make or break their decision. 

Colleges and universities equally regret not being able to have you on campus, and they’re doing the best they can to bring campus culture to you. No one will agree that virtual tours and live chats can measure up to the real thing, but it’s a pretty good start to helping you find the best school for you. So, what are you supposed to do when you can’t leave your house, much less hop on a plane to tour a campus? Time to get on the computer or your phone. 

What Schools Are Doing

Virtual Reality: 

Westfield State University advertisement

Virtual tours have been around for some time, but schools are beginning to ramp up their efforts in making a great first impression—digitally. While it will be a remarkably different experience, these virtual tours can be a great plan-B introduction into your potential future home. Many schools have also incorporated online chat abilities to their admissions pages, so campus officials can get you real-time answers to any questions about library resources, the location of the campus police office, etc. 

(As you explore the Colleges of Distinction website, you’ll find that each school profile has a link to its own COVID-19 updates along with where to find its virtual tour. You can also visit this page here to see a list of all of our schools’ virtual tours!)

Prompt Acceptance, Delayed Decision:

Most colleges and universities understand how nerve-wracking it can be to wait to hear whether you’ve been accepted. And all the anxiety of the pandemic certainly doesn’t help with that pressure. For that reason, schools are doing their best to stay on track with April acceptance letters while also giving students time to decide where ultimately to enroll. 

You might have already received your acceptance letters. Congratulations! As scary and uncertain as this time is, your accomplishments deserve to be celebrated. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. Traditionally, you would have been required to make a decision by May 1st, but with all the changes going on, schools understand that there are more things to do and consider. That’s why many schools have pushed their decision date to June 1st so that you have extra time to figure things out.


What You Can Do 

Get Involved:

Participate in anything and everything your prospective schools are offering: virtual tours, live streams, live chats. Soak up as much as you can. These experiences will not completely measure up to the sensory experience of being on campus, but they will allow you to immerse yourself in the campus culture enough to make an informed decision. 

You’ve likely already thought about what you want from a school academically, but have you considered the other aspects of a college experience? Take some time to determine what environment you want to thrive in. What is your ideal campus culture? Think about how you want to spend time outside of the classroom: look at your options for sports, clubs and organizations, student government organization, service opportunities, learning communities, etc. When you have this clear picture in your mind, you can explore potential schools with purpose.

Explore Social Media:

If you haven’t already, follow all of your prospective schools on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Some schools have even jumped on the Tik Tok bandwagon! Not only will you get the most up-to-date information, but you’ll also get a closer look at the campus culture. Dive into the hashtags and see what actual students are doing and posting. And don’t be shy about reaching out directly to students, RAs, or orientation leaders through social media; most, if not all, would be happy to share their experience with you! 

Westfield State University advertisement

Reach Out Directly: 

If the school you’re interested in doesn’t have information readily available, don’t despair. Smaller schools are doing the best they can with their resources. If you have questions about how a school is handling things, give them a call! You’ll get a better sense of how schools are handling the crisis as well as how accessible their resources are. As a bonus, you’ll be showing demonstrated interest in that school, which always goes a long way in admissions. 

What Colleges of Distinction Is Doing:

We’ve always cared about the student experience more than anything else. Even without a crisis, our platform has helped students gain a true understanding of what it’s like to live and learn at our amazing schools. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students are making informed decisions about where they want to spend the next four years of their lives. Colleges of Distinction is here to help you do that. Rather than focus on arbitrary statistics, we created our cohort of schools with four essential components in mind. The Four Distinctions, as we call them, comprise a truly well-rounded, inspiring college experience:

    1. Engaged Students: At a College of Distinction, students are continually pushed to make the most of their education. They are encouraged to reach a deeper sense of inquiry and always nourish their curiosity. Constant memorization, unimaginative lectures, and endless exams are not the norm at these schools. 
    2. Great Teaching: These are the professors who go above and beyond to teach their students, especially in trying times. These professors truly care about the success of their students and give them the tools they need to reach the high standards they’re held to. 
    3. Vibrant Communities: College is more than just what goes on in the classroom. A robust college experience is characterized by the lasting bonds, meaningful experiences, and the inspiring memories you create. 
    4. Successful Outcomes: While you will certainly be prepared for that first job, that’s not all these colleges care about. Whether it’s conducting groundbreaking research, landing an amazing internship, or even switching careers as an alum, these colleges want to give you every opportunity to achieve personal and professional success.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change everyday reality for everyone in the world, we are staying up to date with how schools are responding (check out this article for a few star examples!). The Four Distinctions will look a little different at this time, but we are confident that our schools are dedicated to student learning and success no matter what. 

Advice for Students:

Our advice section is full of robust, relevant articles that address some of the concerns you might be having. Embarking on a college journey is an intimidating time even without a global crisis going on. We have hundreds of articles that cover various topics from searching for a college and how to navigate financial aid to studying abroad and how to make the most of your resources. 

Colleges of Distinction is also proud to offer insight directly from students at our schools to help you navigate the ins and outs of the college experience. Our Student Ambassador section features articles written by students for students. Are you curious about what the first year of college is like? Jada from Gardner-Webb University can tell you. How about how to land a killer internship? Ask Mark from Florida Southern College

Making a decision is going to be difficult. And once you do, you might be wondering what your college experience will look like. Can you have an in-person orientation? Will remote learning still be around in the fall? No one really knows. At Colleges of Distinction, we think the classroom experience is one of, if not the, most important components of the college experience. We want you to be in the classroom with your peers and professors more than anyone, but that may not be possible for a while. As the pandemic changes everyday, we can only wait to see what comes next.


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