Getting Into College: Campus Tours in the Time of COVID

How to say “I want to go here” when you can’t actually be there: it’s easier than you think!

How do you show a college that you’re committed to succeeding if you’re accepted, when you can’t meet Admissions Officers face to face? Traditionally, getting on campus and making in-person connections was the perfect chance. Nothing established your sincere interest in a university like a handshake, a smile, and eye contact – all of the little human interactions that leave lasting impacts on the people you meet.

But if you’ve looked into arranging a college tour in the last 12 months, it may have been a disappointing and frustrating experience. The pandemic forced schools across the country to drastically scale back “live” options for touring their campuses. Instead, colleges created virtual tours, giving applicants the opportunity to see a school through their phone, tablet, or device – hardly the ideal way to help families make decisions about where students would be spending the next four to six years of their lives.

This doesn’t mean you need to become Ernest Hemingway on your Common Application. (In fact, Hemingway himself probably couldn’t have gotten by with the 650-word essay limit!) The essay, whether it’s for the Common App or a college’s individual application, gives you the opportunity to tell a compelling story that doesn’t necessarily show itself on the rest of your application. And don’t discount the importance of what are called the “supplemental” questions.

While the main essay is a piece of the Common Application all colleges will receive, the supplements are school-specific. This is the perfect place to let a college know you’re genuinely interested in joining their student body.

Getting Into College: Do Your Homework

Typical supplemental questions can include:

  • Why do you want to attend Joe College University?
  • What do you hope to contribute to the Joe College University Community?
  • The Joe College University mascot, the Aardvark, is a symbol of strength, stability, and individuality. How have you demonstrated Aardvark qualities throughout your life? How will you demonstrate them as a college student?

And typical responses will include “because it’s the perfect fit for me”; “I will give back by getting involved in lots of activities”; “I have been an Aardvark in many ways since I was a child”. All general, non-specific statements that lead into general, non-specific paragraphs. And they leave general, non-specific impressions on the officer who reads them.

Getting into college can hinge on showing these officers something they haven’t seen before. Do some legwork before you write, exploring the college’s website and other online resources and find details like:

  • A special location or particular building on campus.
  • An alumni who has inspired you.
  • An instructor you’d love to learn from.
  • A nearby landmark that has meaning for you.
  • A school motto that speaks to you.
  • A trait about their mascot (not an Aardvark, hopefully) you connect with.

Be as specific as possible: show yourself gathering with other students at that campus ehotspot or following in the alumni’s footsteps in pursuit of a goal. Mention the professor’s publications and how they connect to your planned studies and maybe even career plans. Anything you discover about the college will make your essay stand out from the crowd and tell a reader, “I really want to be a part of your community, and you can count on me to go the extra step.”

Getting into College: Don’t Despair

No matter what you may think about the college admissions process and how it’s changed due to the coronavirus, remember that Admissions Officers want reasons to let you in, not keep you out. Personal connections can still be made with a phone call or email to a specific member of the Admissions team, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask about connecting with a particular person. Make friends. It will pay off.

Touring college during the time of COVID won’t look like what it did before 2020. But that doesn’t mean you can’t demonstrate your interest and shine in the eyes of the people reviewing your application. You want them to see you as special – show them you think they are special too!

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