Plan A College Tour During the Pandemic
Parents and high school students everywhere are dealing with a new challenge unique to the times. College visits! In a world of social distancing and online classes, how will you know which colleges are a good fit? Virtual tours offer a great overview of schools and classes, but there’s really nothing like being there in person. Since we have a junior who is knee-deep in research, we decided to plan a college tour… during the pandemic!
As stacks of flyers and umpteen emails pour in, they all say the same thing. Visit us online at bestcollegeintheworld.com! And we have. Our son has taken countless virtual tours, and listened in to a multitude of speakers, and filled out dozens of surveys. While these virtual communications have been helpful, they still don’t give a complete picture of college life.
What does the campus look like teeming with students? Is the city surrounding it energizing or overwhelming? Will a rural setting suit? How far is the walk to classes? How far is the drive home? (Ok, I suppose this one might be my issue!)
Guided Tours Still Exist!
As you browse the college websites, most homepages have messages encouraging you to take a virtual tour. However, if you dig a little deeper into the sites, you may find other options.
We found several colleges and universities that still offered in-person tours, although buried several layers into our search. If you are interested in a guided tour, contact admissions. It’s the only sure way to know if you can see the campus during COVID. Again, it may take some detective work, but the right person will get you the information you need.
Schedule Ahead (WAY Ahead!)
One of the caveats of these escorted tours is that the group size is much smaller. Instead of the typical 30 people, our tours never had more than nine at a time. Because space is limited, it’s important to schedule your tour well in advance. We planned three weeks ahead and landed the last tours of the day at two campuses. This is not the time to be spontaneous! Spots fill quickly so plan accordingly.
What to Expect
Expect the usual pandemic protocol – masks, sanitizer, and social distancing. You probably won’t see any dorm rooms since most campus housing is closed to outsiders. Depending on the school, you may or may not be able to see classrooms. We got an in-depth look at the engineering department at one university and were locked out of the buildings at another.
Dining halls and eateries are most likely also off-limits. Most of the campuses we visited only had pick-up and delivery options for students (no eat-in dining).
Life on Campus Goes On
You can, however, still see signs of college life! Hammocks were slung with abandon in green spaces and electric scooters nearly ran us down every 5 minutes. Study groups met in courtyards and spike ball games popped up on the lawns. While not completely typical, it all felt very … normal! It was a pretty accurate snapshot of what incoming freshmen can expect, even during these unusual times.
We were thrilled to find that the admissions offices at some colleges on our tour welcomed us for walk-in meetings. It was very helpful to have a counselor answer our most pressing questions about classes, costs, and college life!
Just A Drive-By
Not every school that we wanted to visit was fully operational or welcoming guests for in-person visits. In those cases, we simply drove through or parked and walked. It gave us a better perspective of the campuses than perhaps a virtual experience might – at least we know where the Starbucks are!
Hotels While Traveling
In this COVID world, you may be hesitant to plan any travel that involves staying in hotels. We stayed several nights at Hilton properties and had exceptional experiences. The Hilton CleanStay with Lysol protection was exactly as promised. Our rooms were immaculately clean with sanitized, high-touch areas, and plastic-bagged remotes.
Breakfast was grab and go and hot coffee or chocolate was served by the gloved, front desk attendant. The coffee was clutch as we hit the road!
Plan Your College Tour Responsibly
While we all are dialing back a bit on travel these days, you don’t have to cut it out completely. Plan a college tour responsibly with a little research. Know the restrictions in the states you want to visit, scout out hotels ahead of time, and schedule tours in advance. And of course, always wear a mask.
A little prep goes a long way when you plan a college tour during a pandemic. It’s worth the effort when you see that “aha” moment on your child’s face and you know s/he has found a place that checks all the boxes! Happy hunting!
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