College is often a place of self-discovery for young people, or at the very least, a place to try new things. However, what defines your college experience and the trajectory of your life is not always the actual academic institution, but the people you’re surrounded by for those four imperative years. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in mandatory (and direly needed) social distancing in most states and countries around the world; as a result, incoming freshmen this year won’t be able to physically visit universities following college decisions.
Not having the ability to tour campuses is huge, as the time spent in auditoriums, lecture halls, and seeing other students (pretend to) study on a bright green law often dictates what college a qualified candidate will choose. One of the most important things for incoming freshmen to think about is whether the school’s “personality” will match their own, but with no other way to get a feel for what the next four years may be like, what can incoming freshmen do?
- Take a virtual tour
University of California, Berkeley, has an online tour on their website, and an easy google search should tell you if your university does, too! Most often, these online tours go over the different buildings on campus, and which types of students use them (i.e. X Hall is for STEM Majors). If your chosen university doesn’t have a pre-recorded tour available, reach out to your admissions office and see if anyone still working on campus would be able to take you for a FaceTime tour.
- Reach out to current students to hear about the campus culture
Katherine Chou, a senior at Chandler High School in Arizona, was accepted into Yale this past March. She quickly asked people she knew who were attending the school what they had to say about their experiences in New Haven. Current students, especially those with the same major as you, will probably be your best resource since they’ve lived and learned through it all. Search for class Facebook pages for your school of choice or browse through LinkedIn to find current students, and shoot them a message to see if they’d be willing to answer some questions.
- Check out YouTube
If you can’t find anyone going to the school you’re looking into that you can hurl your questions at, some universities have public videos about certain classes, lecture halls, professors, etc. For example, New York University has an entire channel called “Meet NYU”, which features videos on financial aid, tuition, housing, the process of applying and different buildings around Manhattan and Brooklyn. There are also many videos uploaded by their own students independently which cover information on dorm life, rushing, hookup culture, dining halls, specific majors and more.
- Contact professors who instruct students with your major
Many times you can find their email online, usually under the faculty page. Introduce yourself via email, including your name, year, and major, as well as whatever questions you might have for them! Make sure you’re polite and respectful of their time, and that whatever you write isn’t something that could be passed on as unnecessary by spam filters.
- Join online forums
Some forums popular with students include Reddit or Facebook. Many universities set up Facebook groups for the newly admitted classes so that accepted students can meet each other–and which usually see frequent use even through graduation–while Reddit forums often include threads about what there is to do on campus. Reddit has many university communities, such as r/Rutgers.
- Search for certain clubs and organizations at your college
Look up clubs and organizations on campus that you might be interested in. If you want to be in a fraternity or sorority, make sure that the university has a Greek life! Jesuit schools, such as Fordham in NYC, don’t have Greek life. Similarly, if you want to be a part of a newspaper or student publication, make sure that your university has one! Most do, but depending on how competitive your school is, there may be an application to write for them.
- Check the latest news about this university
Incoming freshmen should also look at how the prospective university responded to the coronavirus. Did they abruptly kick students out, leaving little to no room for packing? Or did they offer students with no alternatives to go home temporarily? Did they change grading policies to account for those students facing unimaginable difficulties outside of their academic obligations?
St. John’s in Queens, New York City, actually provided international students with dorming on the basis of need. Similarly, Columbia University in the city of New York allowed students to stay on campus if they couldn’t afford to leave. Both universities transitioned to pass/fail as a result of successful and popular online petitions on Change.org initiated by their own students.
The way a university treats low-income or marginalized students during a crisis says a great deal about their values as an academic institution and whether they truly value the students who bring their community diversity.
While the pandemic at hand has left incoming freshmen unable to check their prospective schools out in person, there are still so many opportunities online that may help you decide on which place to call home for the next four years. Congrats on graduating, class of 2020!